If you have a child with a disability, getting to understand your child’s legal rights can help you and your child avoid discrimination. It will also help you to access and navigate the disability service system more easily.
In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 promotes equal access, rights and opportunity for people with a disability and it applies to all states and territories in Australia.
The Act aims to protect people with disabilities from being treated unfairly and makes it against the law to discriminate against someone with a disability, whether the disability is physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, neurological or a learning disability.
This legislation protects people with a disability by setting standards for education, employment, professional services, public transport and internet accessibility.
People with a disability have the right to use assistive devices, interpreters, carers and readers, as well as guide and hearing dogs or any other animals trained to help them. It also protects people with a disability from being harassed because of their disability, meaning that people with disabilities have the right to not feel intimidated, insulted or humiliated by others. In addition to providing protection for people with a disability, it also covers family, friends and carers.
Other Australian Government laws that protect and provide for people with a disability are the Disability Services Act 1986 and the Social Security Act 1991. These laws mainly deal with employment, rehabilitation, training and accommodation.
You and your child’s rights
There are two types of discrimination outlined in the Disability Discrimination Act:
- Direct discrimination is when a person with a disability is treated less favourably, such as being refused entry to a business.
- Indirect discrimination is when everyone is treated the same, but it has a negative impact on someone with a disability, such as only having stairs with no wheelchair access.
Every child in Australia has the right to an education. If your child has a disability, you can choose whether your child attends a mainstream school or a special school, depending on your location and the needs of your child.
Whichever you decide, it is best to contact the school well before the enrolment date to ensure the school will be able to provide for your child’s needs.
Local government schools will need to make an assessment on how best to support your child and you may need to provide medical or therapist reports about your child’s disability.
Non-government schools (such as private schools) will have their own policies in place to support children with a disability.
Special schools that cater for children with disabilities will have an eligibility criteria to assess your child. You should contact these schools for further information.
You may be eligible for funding support to help your child attend school through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). For example, the NDIS may help fund necessary transport, equipment or technology.
Who to contact
The Australian Human Rights Commission is responsible for investigating and acting on any complaints of disability discrimination.
You can make an enquiry or lodge a complaint with the AHRC via:
- telephone to 1300 656 419 (for the cost of a local call)
- email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- online at the Australian Human Rights Commission website
Before making a complaint, the AHRC recommends seeking independent legal advice, for example, from your local disability legal and advocacy service. The AHRC also promotes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
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Last reviewed: June 2019