The following three case studies illustrate common problem types that ACDL has worked on for people with disabilities in New South Wales. All case studies have been de-identified.
CASE STUDY 1 – Assistance Animals
Maria has diabetes, depression, anxiety, agoraphobia and chronic back pain. Two years ago, her GP recommended that she get an assistance dog to assist with her disabilities. Maria has trained her dog to be a diabetic alert dog, so he can let her know if her blood sugar is crashing, and she also finds that her dog greatly assists her with her other disabilities via companionship, increased physical movement and general comfort.
Maria bought an apartment in a strata complex last year, and notified the strata manager that she had an assistance dog. The strata manager said it shouldn’t be a problem but she would need to submit an application to the body corporate. She did so prior to moving in and provided supporting documents from her doctor highlighting how the dog alleviated her disabilities. She also provided information on the level of training the dog had been given. However, the Strata manager said she could not keep the dog as she had not provided sufficient information about his accreditation, and therefore Maria had to be apart from her dog for some months.
After obtaining documents and consider Maria’s matter, ACDL wrote a letter to the Strata manager on Maria’s behalf, explaining that her dog satisfies the requirements disability discrimination legislation as the dog is trained to alleviate her disability and trained to an appropriate standard in a public place, and that Maria would be bringing her dog onto the property as at that date. Maria was then able to bring her dog onto the property with confidence.
CASE STUDY 2 – Education
Omar is a 13 year old student in Year 7 at a public school. He has autism, ADHD, ODD and anxiety, and has a behavioural management plan in place. Due to his disabilities, he often acts out in a silly or joking manner, including swearing, and he often lashes out physically when distressed, which is why his behavioural management plan focuses on ways to calm him down. The school follows a strict discipline policy for anything that is seen as misbehaviour: any student who swears or engages in any physical altercation of any level is automatically suspended for 2 days, and progressively longer suspensions occur for each new breach of behaviour.
Omar experienced increasingly long suspensions throughout year 7 for minor incidents of physical altercation with other students as a result of bullying, firstly for 2 days, then 4 days, then 5 days, culminating in a 20 day suspension for appearing to threaten a teacher. The teacher and other students interpreted this as clowning around rather than a genuine threat and the situation was quickly defused. The incident was not even mentioned by his teacher to his parents until the suspension occurred some days later. His mother repeatedly requested that the discipline and suspension policy be amended to take into account Omar’s tendency to act out inappropriately, and institute alternative forms of discipline in accordance with his behavioural management plan, such as detention or similar. The School did not do so, and after the last long suspension, Omar was again found to be misbehaving and was threatened with expulsion.
ACDL wrote a letter of advice to Omar’s mother on the prospects of success of a claim of disability discrimination, noting that there was a strong case of indirect discrimination in the School’s treatment of Omar’s in relation to the discipline policy, in that he could not comply with the discipline policy because of his disabilities, and the School had failed to make reasonable adjustments which would accommodate his disabilities despite repeated requests. ACDL explained the process and options for making a discrimination complaint, as well as providing referrals for assistance with challenging the procedural decision to expel him on other grounds. Omar’s mother said that she found the advice very helpful and allowed her to consider all her options clearly.
CASE STUDY 3 – Employment
Danielle was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. She worked at an accounting firm and did not tell them about it when she got the job. She was worried about what they would think and she did not think that her diagnosis would affect the way she did her job.
One day, she told a close workmate. When she came to work the next day, she found that her workmate had told other people. After lunch, there was a note on her desk calling her a ‘druggie’.
Danielle was really upset. After a few days, she decided to ask for a meeting with her employer to tell her what had happened. Danielle’s employer seemed shocked to hear about the behaviour of the others but was worried that if he said something it might cause conflict within the team. He said he would say something to the other employees, but kept putting off actually doing so.
Danielle approached ACDL for advice. ACDL told her that she might have a complaint of disability discrimination or harassment under the law, but Danielle did not want to make a complaint at this point in time. ACDL wrote a letter detailing the requirements under disability discrimination law and asking the employer to resolve the matter swiftly.
Upon receiving the letter, Danielle’s employer called an urgent staff meeting to discuss the importance of a safe work place and the policy on harassment and discrimination. Danielle’s complaint was then dealt with in accordance with the workplace grievance policy and the situation was resolved.