Disability and Discrimination

Everyone with a disability has a right to be free from discrimination.

This page has information about what disability is and how to recognise when someone is discriminating against you.

Watch People With Disability Australia's video (external website) about 'The Social Model of Disability':

Tip: Click the captions button in the bottom right hand corner of the video to turn closed captions on and off.

What is disability?

Disability is when someone has an impairment and faces barriers to fully taking part in their community and society. People can be born with disability or acquire a disability at some point in their life. Disability can be temporary or permanent.

There are lots of types of disability including:

  • intellectual disability
  • neurological disability
  • psychosocial disability
  • physical disability
  • sensory disability.
Did you know?

There is no singular definition of disability, everyone experiences disability differently.
You are the expert on your disability.


Human Rights Model of Disability

Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA) and other Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) use the Human Rights Model of Disability, which is very similar to the Social Model of Disability.

Photo of people meeting in the main conference room of the United Nations, New York.

The Human Rights Model of Disability recognises people with disability as people who have rights. It involves moving away from seeing people with disability as having a 'problem', towards making sure they experience the same respect, dignity and equal rights as others.

The Human Rights Model of Disability is about supporting and celebrating difference and working to address the barriers that prevent people with disability from fully taking part in society. An important part of a human rights approach to disability is making sure that people with disability are given the right to make their own choices and to be involved in all of the decisions that affect them. It also means creating the conditions to help people with disability participate in society, in education, in employment and in politics.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is based on the human rights model of disability.

Learn more about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on the United Nations Conventions page.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is when a person or group of people treats you badly or harasses you because of something about you, like your gender, disability, sexuality, political beliefs or religious beliefs.

It is against the law for someone to discriminate against you because of something about you.

You can be discriminated against directly or indirectly.

Photo of a woman looking to the left.

Direct Discrimination is when someone treats you badly or bullies you because of something about you that you cannot change. For example, if someone does not give you a job because you have a disability, that is direct discrimination.

Indirect Discrimination is when a structure or requirement is unfair to a group of people or an individual. For example, if a job for a school states that all applicants must have a driver's license, this indirectly discriminates against people with epilepsy who cannot obtain a driver's license. This restriction may be justified if the job is driving a school bus, but it may not be justified if the job is a teaching position.

Did you know?

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it against the law for someone to discriminate against you based on your disability.

You can learn more about the Act on the Australian Human Rights Commission website (external link).


What is harassment?

Harassment is a form of discrimination. It includes any unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends or embarrasses you.

Harassment can includes things like:

  • telling insulting jokes about particular racial groups or people with disability
  • sending unwanted naked photos to someone (this is also a form of violence)
  • talking badly about someone’s disability, gender, race or ethnicity
  • asking intrusive questions about someone’s personal life, including his or her sex life.

What is bullying?

Bullying is when a person or a group of people uses words or actions to make you feel bad. This is never OK. Bullying may include:

  • excluding you from groups or events
  • calling you names or teasing you
  • hurting you physically (this is also a form of violence)
  • taking away tasks or withholding information from you because of your disability.

Many people experience bullying online through social media, apps, games or email. This is called cyber-bulling.

Tip: You can learn more about cyber-bullying on the Staying Safe Online page.

Making a complaint

If someone treats you badly, bullies you or discriminates against you, you have the right to complain. The Australian Human Rights Commission is the main organisation that deals with complaints about discrimination in Australia, but there are lots of other ways to complain depending on your situation.

Tip: You can learn more on the Making a Complaint page.

Important resources

Guides
Our Site Fact Sheet: Discrimination and Making a Complaint
A fact sheet to help you learn what discrimination is and how to make a complaint if someone discriminates against you.
Apple App Store
Google Play
Visit Website
Download Word (accessible)
Download PDF
Listen Now
Download PDF
Download PDF
Watch Video
Guides
Our Site Fact Sheet: Disability Advocacy
A fact sheet explaining what disability advocacy is.
Apple App Store
Google Play
Visit Website
Download Word (accessible)
Download PDF
Listen Now
Download PDF
Download PDF
Watch Video
Guides
WWDA Human Rights Toolkit
A toolkit split into 8 sections with information to help women with disability understand and stand up for their rights.
Apple App Store
Google Play
Visit Website
Download Word (accessible)
Download PDF
Listen Now
Download PDF
Download PDF
Watch Video
Guides
WWDA Youth Human Rights Workbook
A workbook to help young women with disability learn about human rights.
Apple App Store
Google Play
Visit Website
Download Word (accessible)
Download PDF
Listen Now
Download PDF
Download PDF
Watch Video
Guides
WWDA Easy English Human Rights Toolkit
A toolkit split into 4 parts with information in Easy English to help women with disability understand and stand up for their rights.
Apple App Store
Google Play
Visit Website
Download Word (accessible)
Download PDF
Listen Now
Download PDF
Download PDF
Watch Video
Guides
Our Site Fact Sheet: Standing Up For Your Rights
A fact sheet with information to help you stand up for your rights.
Apple App Store
Google Play
Visit Website
Download Word (accessible)
Download PDF
Listen Now
Download PDF
Download PDF
Watch Video

Where to next

External website
Australian Human Rights Commission
The national organisation in Australia that supports your rights.
Apple App Store
Google Play
Visit Website
Accessible Word File
Download PDF
Listen Now
Download PDF
Download PDF
Watch Video
External website
Disability Advocacy Finder
A website that can help you find a disability advocate.
Apple App Store
Google Play
Visit Website
Accessible Word File
Download PDF
Listen Now
Download PDF
Download PDF
Watch Video
External website
eSafety Commissioner
A website helping Australians to have safer, more positive experiences online.
Apple App Store
Google Play
Visit Website
Accessible Word File
Download PDF
Listen Now
Download PDF
Download PDF
Watch Video