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DPI Incorporation

DPI Certificate of Incorporation in Canada, 1981.[1]

International Stage

After the Singapore World Congress, Henry Enns continued to promote DPI and its mandate on the world stage. He contributed to the formulation of the UN World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons, adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1982.[2] This global strategy to enhance disability prevention, rehabilitation and the equalization of opportunities stressed that disability should be approached as a matter of human rights. In February 1983, Enns again met with UN officials and accepted consultative status on behalf of DPI. This status provides non-governmental organizations with a reliable conduit of communication with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), granting further legitimacy to DPI and ensuring that the concerns of disabled people would continue to be heard.[3] The following month, Enns was in Vienna where DPI and the UN jointly launched the Decade of Disabled Persons 1983-1992. The Decade was intended to be a period of active implementation for the World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons among member governments and also featured a wide-ranging public education program on disability issues.[4] He was also able to directly contribute to UN policy by serving on a number of occasions as advisor to the Canadian government delegations to the UN General Assembly and ECOSOC.[5]

DPI Logo

Logo for Disabled Peoples’ International.[6]

Spreading the Movement

As an international institution, DPI was able to coordinate and support both national-scale organizations and international/transnational-focused work. In August 1983, the DPI World Council approved an international development “Self-Help Leadership Training Program”. The program hosted a series of training seminars to provide disability activists in third-world and developing countries with the financial and organization skills that would allow them to better organize homegrown national organizations and development projects.[7] This program was administered from the DPI Development office in Winnipeg and would run through 1989.[8] As only one example, in October 1984 an International Symposium on Development was held in Kingston, Jamaica. DPI arranged and sponsored the participation of twenty disabled leaders from different regions of the world who would not otherwise have been able to attend.[9] The training, networking, and encouragement that such events provided achieved real results. By 1989, there were sixty-nine national multi-disability groups operating around the world, and a great many more uni-disability groups in almost every nation.[10] DPI was not directly involved in the lobbying work of local or national organizations, but provided an international voice, increased visibility, and practical training that everywhere stimulated disabled leaders to consolidate their voices.[11] In 1982, the Canadian Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped (COPOH) successfully lobbied to have the rights of disabled people enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, part of the new Canadian Constitution.[12]

At the time of DPI’s founding, 80% of disabled people lived in the developing world. In some countries, 20% of the total population lived with acquired disabilities due to malnutrition and communicable diseases.[13] These areas would remain a particular focus. As a special International Year of the Disabled Person (IYDP) project, in 1982 Enns and Driedger embarked on a fact-finding trip through Asia to assess how disabled people and associations in that region were linking with DPI and how they might better do so in the future.[14] The pair travelled to Colombo and Kandy in Sri Lanka, Bangkok in Thailand, Singapore, and Tokyo. They visited and reported on schools for the deaf, blind, and developmentally disabled, a “Foundation for the Crippled”, a vocational training center for disabled people, a veterans’ hospital, a disabled persons’ residence, and a fundraising telethon.[15] As part of its continued support for DPI, the MCC paid for Enns’ and Driedger’s travel expenses.[16]

DPI World Council, Tokyo, 1985

DPI World Council, Tokyo, 1985. From left to right: Senator Eita Yashiro, Japan; Henry Enns, Canada; Tambo Camara, Mauritania.[17]

At the 1985 World Council meeting in Tokyo, DPI addressed an important point of terminology. The original 1981 DPI Constitution passed in Singapore had used the World Health Organization’s contemporary definitions of “disability” and “handicap”. Many members, however, took issue with those definitions and felt that they represented the very medical model of disability that DPI had been founded to oppose.[18] The DPI Steering Committee in Singapore adopted and distribute a manifesto of its founding principles, though this manifesto did not alter the language in the DPI Constitution. Under the heading “Disability – Handicap”, the manifesto asserted that:

"Historically the analysis of the situation of disabled people has been made from an individual perspective. The focus has been on the various limitations in the individual. The following definitions make a clear distinction between disability and handicap and make it possible to analyse the various problems we face with the focus on the various limitations in the society."[19]

 In 1985, the World Council in Tokyo replaced the language in the DPI Constitution with the exact words that followed in the 1981 manifesto originally penned in Singapore:

"a.Disability is the functional limitation within the individual caused by physical, mental or sensory impairment, and b.handicap is the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life of the community on an equal level with others due to physical and social barriers."[20]

This new set of definitions firmly enshrined the DPI commitment to the social model of disability. Disabled Peoples’ International has continued to this day to act as a voice of disabled people, a focal point for self-representation, and a worldwide call for the human right to live without physical or social barriers.


Carleton University Disability Research Group. Research, interview, text, and design by Ryan Patterson.

Ryan would like to thank the Mennonite Central Committee for their generous support, the archivist team at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives for their invaluable assistance and acess to records, Chantel Fehr for providing helpful digital records, and special thanks to Professor Diane Driedger for her time, insight, and encouragement.

[1] Canadian Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, “Certificate of Incorporation, Disabled Peoples’ International (Canada) Inc.”, Oct 16, 1981, MCC Canada Files 1985, Volume 4516, 324 R, 1985, Disabled People Concerns 1981-1985.

[2] “World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons,” conclusion date: December 3, 1982, United Nations, A/RES/37/52,; Esther Epp-Tiessen, Mennonite Central Committee in Canada: A History, Winnipeg: Canadian Mennonite University Press, 2013, p. 135.

[3] Henry Enns, “Handicap Concerns Program: Report to MCC (Canada) Executive Committee Meeting”, Report to meeting #125 (Mar 18-19, 1983), Exhibit 17, MCCC Heritage Archives, Winnipeg, p. 1.

[4] Henry Enns, “Handicap Concerns Project Report To The Mennonite Central Committee Canada Executive Committee Meeting”, Report to meeting #126 (Jun 17-18, 1983), Exhibit 12, MCCC Heritage Archives, Winnipeg, p. 2.

[5] Anon., “Background Paper for Recommendation to Discontinue the Position of Director of the Handicap Concerns Program and to Establish an MCC Handicap Concerns Committee to the Mennonite Central Committee Canada Annual Meeting”, Report to meeting #151 (Jan 16-18, 1986), Exhibit 12, MCCC Heritage Archives, Winnipeg, p. 8; “Letter from Henry Enns to Bill Janzen”, Ottawa, Dec 7, 1984, MCC Canada Files 1984, Volume 4405, 876 R, 1984, Handicapped Concerns, CA HAND.

[6] DPI Logo, 2019,.pgn, Disabled Peoples’ International, Ottawa,

[7] Henry Enns, “Handicap Concerns Report to the Mennonite Central Committee Canada Executive Committee Meeting”, Report to meeting #127 (Sep 30-Oct 1, 1983), Exhibit 21, MCCC Heritage Archives, Winnipeg, p. 1.

[8] Diane Driedger, The Last Civil Rights Movement: Disabled Peoples’ International (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989), p. 60. Available for digital loan on Internet Archive:

[9] “Letter from Henry Enns, Deputy Chairperson DPI to Waldo Neufeld, Acting Executive Director MCCC”, Winnipeg, Dec 14, 1984, MCC Canada Files 1984, Volume 4405, 880 R, 1984, Organizations, CA HAND.

[10] Driedger, Last Civil Rights Movement, p. 117.

[11] Ibid, p. 70.

[12] Ibid.

[13] United Nations, World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons (New York: United Nations, 1983) p. 13.

[14] Diane Lynn Driedger, The Origins and History of Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) 1945-1985, MA in History, University of Manitoba, 1987, p. 81. Available through the University of Manitoba thesis repository:

[15] Henry Enns and Diane Driedger, “Disabled People: International Perspectives, An Asia Trip Report”, MCC Canada Files 1982, Volume 4319, 767 R, 1982, Disabled Peoples International, MB CA VOLU, p. 12.

[16] Ibid.

[17] DPI World Council, Tokyo, 1985, 1985, .jpg, “Memory into the Future”, Disabled Peoples’ International,

[18] Driedger, Last Civil Rights Movement, p. 91.

[19] DIP Steering Committee, “Disabled Peoples’ International, Manifesto and Plan of Action”, MCC Canada Files 1983, Volume 4360, 3157 R, 1983, Disabled Peoples International, OV DISA, p. 1.

[20] Disabled Peoples’ International, “Constitution”, 1985, 1, DPI Development Office files, Winnipeg.