The Disability Discrimination Commissioner’s role is multifaceted. The Commissioner is charged with promoting an understanding and acceptance of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)(1992). This may occur by way of a number of functions inclusive of research, advising and informing the relevant Minister regarding laws and enactments relating to discrimination on the ground of disability, monitoring the development of relevant Standards under the Act, as well as developing and publishing guidelines to assist in the avoidance of discrimination.
The DDA (1992) addresses discrimination on the grounds of disability in a number of areas such as education, employment, goods and services, and access to premises. The definition of premises is very broad under the Act but of course includes buildings and places that the public are allowed to enter. The Act also allows for Disability Standards to be formulated to further define relevant strategies, adjustments, and exemptions.
In 2010 the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards were released with the objects of the standard being twofold:
‘to ensure that dignified, equitable, cost effective and reasonably achievable access to buildings, and facilities and services within buildings, is provided…’; and
‘to give certainty to building certifiers, building developers and building managers…’
To address the later, efforts were made to replicate most of the requirements of the Standard with that of the access requirements of the Building Code of Australia (BCA); this with the view to harmonising these as far as practicable.
The mechanism for beginning proceedings in the event of discrimination occurring, is via complaint to the AHRC. The AHRC consequently attempt to resolve complaints relating to disability discrimination by way of conciliation. Where complainants believe their complaint has not been adequately resolved, the complaint can be referred to the Federal Court of Australia. Where considered appropriate to do so, the Commission may also intervene in such court proceedings.
The AHRC Disability Discrimination Commissioner role is therefore pivotal in achieving the objects of the Act and relevant Disability Standards and significant concern has been consequently aired in recent weeks.
Some of this concern has centred on the capacity of another commissioner to adequately address the needs of people with disabilities, their families and networks on the basis of resources alone. The incumbent, Mr. Innes himself, has also suggested that having a Commissioner responsible for disability discrimination and not having a disability themselves as an issue. He describes that as the Sex Discrimination Commissioner should be a woman and the Aged Discrimination Commissioner should be an older person, the Commissioner responsible for disability discrimination should also have the ‘lived’ experience of disability in order to be able to fulfil their role effectively.
In some parts of the community there also appears to be a perception that the DDA is inherently ‘weak’ given the onus is on people with disabilities and their associates to initiate and pursue complaints. The recent events have given cause for this concern to grow further.
The change is likely to have a tangible effect on disability discrimination and how it relates to building design as well as the existing stock of buildings – an issue best to keep an eye on in the coming months.
Functional Access Solutions