Discrimination can occur in a variety of settings:
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1992 aims to protect people with disability from discrimination. It is also meant to protect the family, friends and others associated with the person with disability.
Direct discrimination is when someone receives less favourable treatment because of their disability, and it can occur in these areas:
– education and training;
– accessing goods and services (like shops, cafes or medical services);
– joining a club or association;
– sporting activities (including coaching);
– accommodation, such as buying a house or land, or renting a place to live.
– accessing public places (being able to enter and use public places, including toilets);
– using Commonwealth Government services (for example, Centrelink or voting places).
Indirect discrimination is when an organisation that has a policy that applies to everyone, but which impacts people with disability more severely than everyone else. For example, if a building can only be entered using a set of stairs this may be indirect discrimination, as people who use wheelchairs cannot enter.
In some cases, it is not against the law to discriminate against a person with disability. These include:
– if the person in unable to carry out the inherent requirements of the job. For example, if a person who was not able to get a driver’s license due to their disability applied for a job as a bus driver, then discrimination by the employer may not be against the law;
– if the employment of a person with disability means changes need to be made in the workplace that cause major difficulties or hardship to the employer. It is up to the employer to show how the changes would cause unjustifiable hardship. For example, it might not be unlawful discrimination if an employer needed to make structural changes to a workplace in order to employ someone with disability, but lacked the financial means to do so;
– insurance and superannuation providers may seek exemptions due to reasonable differences in the provision of policies for people with disability;
– there are some exemptions in the Disability Discrimination Act for employment in the defence forces;
– if the disability is an infectious disease and discrimination is necessary to protect the health of others;
– some competitive sports may be able to discriminate against a person with disability if it is not reasonable for the person wishing to play the sport to be able to do so. Sports may also discriminate for the person with disability, for example, Paralympic sports where people without disabilities are excluded from participating.
Examples of possible discrimination:
– Redevelopment of a workplace meant an existing ramp was replaced by stairs. An employee who used a wheelchair was therefore unable to use that part of the building unless he took a much longer route. The redevelopment had taken place without any consultation with employees or the public;
– A person with visual impairment who used an assistance dog phoned a restaurant to make a booking. She advised the restaurant she would be bringing her assistance dog with her, and was told dogs were not allowed in the restaurant;
A school excluded a pupil with Down Syndrome from an excursion to the museum as they believed he would not be able to participate in the activities.
What can you do if you think you have been discriminated against?
First, talk to the organisation or person you feel has treated unfairly. If you are uncomfortable having this conversation, ask someone you trust to help you, like a family member, close friend or an advocate.
You can lodge a complaint with Equal Opportunity Tasmania (EOT), or with the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) if the discrimination complaint is covered by the DDA. It does not cost anything and you do not necessarily need a lawyer. Complaints must be in writing. Take a look at the EOT website’s Complaints page for help with a complaint to EOT, or the AHRC website’s Complaints page for help with a complaint to the AHRC.
An advocate can help you with your complaint. To find out more about accessing advocacy see the Finding Your Way Advocacy page.
If you are not sure whether you have experienced discrimination, or have a question about the complaints process, call the Human Rights Commission’s Information Service on 1 3 0 0 6 5 6 4 1 9 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are also free legal services available to advise you. Check out the AHRC website’s Disability legal and advocacy services page to view a list of services available in Australia.
What happens once your complaint has been received?
Your complaint will be assessed and if it is accepted, attempts will be made to resolve the complaint through conciliation. This process involves you and the person or organisation you are complaining about attending a meeting with a conciliator (impartial third party) to try to resolve the complaint.
The AHRC and the EOT have different processes in place if a complaint is not resolved through conciliation.
You can contact either organisation at any time to ask about your complaint or check its progress.
For more information on the complaints process and how to follow up your complaint, phone the Australian Human Rights Commission on 1 3 0 0 3 6 9 7 1 1 or fill out their online contact form. For complaints to Equal Opportunity Tasmania, phone 1 3 0 0 3 0 5 0 6 2 or visit their Contact Us page for more ways to contact them.
Check out this handy Disability Discrimination Act Guide, and also the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) Easy Read Guide.
Legal Aid Tasmania’s Disability Discrimination Fact Sheet is also a useful resource.
Here you can find a simple list of the best actions to take if you are interested in this topic:
Work out what your complaint is about – is it a person, a service or a system?
Is it discrimination? Call the Human Rights Commission on 1 3 0 0 6 5 6 4 1 9 if you need advice.
Stay calm. Be aware of your manner and tone of voice, getting angry or upset often does not help. If you are too upset to complain, ask a friend, family member or advocate to assist you.
Be ready for questions about your complaint. Have a clear idea of what you want to happen because of your complaint. Do you want your support to change in some way, or are you seeking an apology or compensation of some kind?
Make sure that you are complaining to the right person or service, and then put your complaint in quickly.
Remember to lodge your complaint in writing.
Don’t give up. Keep records of your contact about the complaint. It may not get resolved the first time, you may need to contact the service multiple times, so keep records of this contact in one central place. Don’t just call, try email or going in to the office in person.
Find out who your main contact person is. Keep a record of their name, phone number and email address so you can contact them easily.
Follow up. Don’t be afraid to contact organisations to ask how your complaint is progressing. Be courteous but firm, and know your rights.