It's time to strengthen our disability discrimination laws
On a sunny day nearly 50 years ago, disability rights protesters disrupted the opening of a new but inaccessible railway station at Bondi Junction.
They were reportedly spat at and told to “go back to your nursing homes”.
Standing in front of signs that read “don’t cripple the disabled” and “transport for all”, the late Premier Neville Wran was rattled, declaring the station merely “open to many”.
Similar protests were happening around Australia, signalling a shift in thinking about disability.
Instead of seeing disability as something to be fixed, we began addressing the barriers put up by society that led to disadvantage, such as lack of access to buildings, inaccessible transport, or a lack of captions in a cinema.
This led to the Keating government creating the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
We mark 25 years of the DDA this month
Over a quarter of a century, these laws have allowed people with disabilities to call out entrenched discrimination in the community.
Of the federal discrimination laws relating to age, sex and race, the DDA prompts nearly 40 per cent of complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
There have been some terrific outcomes.
Like 5-year-old Scarlet Finney, who was rejected from the school of her choice because of her disability. The school’s decision was ruled discriminatory, which set the standard for what a school needs to provide for students with disabilities.
Or Bruce Maguire, who needed braille to access ticketing for the Sydney Olympics. His successful complaint was a precedent for all public events.
Or the cases that former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes took up himself, including dozens to make train stations announcements accessible for all.
On top of individual cases, it has helped create an awareness among the broader public about their responsibilities.
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