Disability Discrimination

Cover of Disability Discrimination brochure featuring two women using sign language Download PDF

The Discrimination Act 1991 makes it unlawful to treat you unfavourably to treat someone unfavourably because they have a disability.

‘Disability’ includes:

  • Total or partial loss of a bodily function or part of the body;
  • Malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the body;
  • The presence in the body of organisms that cause or are capable of causing disease e.g. HIV or Hepatitis C;
  • An illness or condition which impairs a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgement or which results in disturbed behaviour; and
  • An intellectual disability or developmental delay.

The Act also covers imputing a disability to a person (for example, assuming that a gay person is HIV positive) or treating someone unfavourably because of a past or possible future disability.
In addition, the Act covers persons who have a guide dog, hearing dog, assistance animal or other aid.

What does discrimination mean?

Under ACT law, discrimination means treating someone unfavourably because of a personal characteristic that is protected in the Discrimination Act. ‘Disability’ is one of the personal characteristics protected in the Act. It is against the law to discriminate against a person because of their ‘disability” in many areas of public life, including:

  • Recruitment and employment;
  • Access to premises including public buildings, parks, and transport;
  • Accommodation;
  • Education;
  • Clubs;
  • Provision of goods, services or facilities;
  • Requests for information where the information about a person’s disability will be used to disadvantage that person;
  • Unlawful advertising.

An example of discrimination in the provision of goods, services or facilities would be:

A man in a wheelchair went with his family to a restaurant. When staff noticed that the man was in a wheelchair, he was denied access to the restaurant on the basis that there was not enough room to accommodate his wheelchair. The restaurant failed to consider making any reasonable adjustment for the man. The man complained to the Commission. Following a conciliation conference, the restaurant agreed to an apology, compensation or providing more staff training

Reasonable adjustment

Generally, employers, service providers and others must make reasonable adjustment for people with a disability to have the same opportunities as others. Adjustment shouldn’t cause unjustifiable hardship, like unaffordable costs or unfair impact on others. This includes adjustments to:

  • workplace equipment or facilities, including provision of additional equipment;
  • workplace communications;
  • work methods or arrangements, including flexibility of working hours and leave entitlements;
  • recruitment practices;
  • facilities provided by educational institutions eg hearing loops, & other equipment;
  • communication methods, including using a reader or interpreter;
  • access to buildings.

When is discrimination allowed?

The law contains exceptions in some situations that do not make it unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their disability. For example an artistic work or performance that requires performance by a person with a disability, or where a person cannot perform the essential work of the position even with reasonable adjustment.