The history of Developmental Education

Until the restructuring of the former Intellectual Disability Services Council (IDSC) during the 1980’s Registered Mental Deficiency Nurses (RMDN) were employed extensively by IDSC and the non-government sector, to work with people with intellectual disabilities and their families. Community based services included roles such as case management and developmental programming.

During the 1980’s, IDSC established Regional Teams, with a broad mandate involving case management, community development and developmental programming, in response to the changing societal attitudes toward disability, moving from a medical model to a social model (i.e., Normalisation, Social Role Valorisation). The RMDN was no longer seen as meeting the requirements for this new direction. The philosophy that became the foundation for the professional training of Developmental Educators in South Australia incorporated the two sometimes opposing ideologies of Normalisation and Applied Behaviour Analysis which found common ground. This enabled the theoretical humanitarian perspective of Normalisation to synthesize with the empirical approach of Applied Behaviour Analysis for the benefit of people with disabilities. This was accomplished in South Australia through the efforts of a select and dedicated group of academics from Flinders University, executives from IDSC and the non-government sector, and disability professionals, by way of creating the 2 year Diploma of Developmental Disabilities in the late 1980’s . RMDN’s were encouraged by IDSC to supplement their studies to complete the Diploma in Developmental Disabilities (also known as the Triple D) then taught at Sturt College. When Sturt College amalgamated with Flinders University in 1991 the 3 year Bachelor of Applied Science – Developmental Disabilities was created, marking the beginning of the professional role of Developmental Educator. In the mid 1990’s this changed to Applied Science – Disability Studies to add a broader range of disability groups and common needs across disabilities to the suite of topics taught. In early 2000 the degree was rebadged to Bachelor of Disability and Community Rehabilitation.

In the mid 1990’s a further organisational re-structure within IDSC saw Developmental Educators become Option Coordinators. This change, as well as the changes to the degree title as mentioned above saw the use of the title ‘Developmental Educator’ reduced significantly with ‘Disability Professional’ being the preferred terminology.
The first professional body that strived to support the development of the profession of Developmental Education was the Developmental Educators Association (DEA), established in the early 1990’s. The DEAI is indebted to this dedicated small group of Developmental Educators who first drew up the Code of Ethics and Practice in 1994. Unfortunately membership was not maintained and, in order to continue, membership eligibility was broadened to capture a wider field of professionals working in disability. The association changed its name to Disability and Rehabilitation Professionals Association (dArpa). Developmental Educators continued to be represented on the committee with a strong interest in their profession. In an attempt to strengthen the status of disability professionals on the national stage dArpa became part of Australasian Disability Professionals (ADP) in 2009, which sadly collapsed in 2012.

It was in 2009 that, due to a lack of recognition, poor employment outcomes, limited career options and a lack of sense of belonging to a profession, that Developmental Educators Australia Inc (DEAI) was formed. The DEAI is grateful to the Public Services Association (PSA) for its support during this time.
In 2011, the South Australian Commissioner for Public Sector Employment recognized Developmental Educators as Allied Health Professionals (Determination 5, 2011). Flinders University agreed to change the title of degree to Bachelor of Disability and Developmental Education, to better align with the professional title of its graduates.


Smith, S., copyright © 2003 – 2009, conjecture corporation [Accessed 11th November, 2009]. Available from World Wide Web: (

The Evolution of Professional Recognition for Developmental Educators in South Australia (2010). Renee Grootenboer, Master’s Project, Dept of Disability and Community Inclusion, Flinders University, South Australia

Determination 5 of the South Australian Commissioner for Public Sector Employment (determination%205_-_classification_and_remunerationpdf)