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Disability Rights


Ten years of achievements using Australia's Disability Discrimination Act

Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM,
Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner

March 2003

Sev Ozdowski

(These are speaking notes used by the Commissioner at a series of events in all Australian capitals as well as Alice Springs through March 2003. Speeches as delivered included acknowledgement of State and Territory anti-discrimination colleagues co-hosting forums in each case as well as guests from the disability community including those presenting personal accounts of use of the DDA.)


Allow me to commence by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I also acknowledge the assistance provided by our State colleagues here today in co-hosting this event. I thank the Attorney-General of Australia for the message of support which you have already heard.

Ten years ago virtually no-one using a wheelchair would have even considered coming to this forum using public transport. Today, whilst public transport systems have much to do, more and more people have that choice.

Ten years ago many of those of us who are deaf would not have been able to communicate on an equal footing using the telephone system. Today, all deaf people can do this.

Five years ago those of us who use screenreaders to access the internet would have found almost every internet site inaccessible. Today, this is not the case.

And ten years ago, many children with disabilities would have been excluded from mainstream education. The percentage of children excluded today has markedly decreased.

These are all reasons for celebration, because what they signify is the removal of barriers preventing Australians with disabilities from participating independently in their daily lives, and in the daily lives of their families, their friends and the community.

But this is not just a celebration for the anniversary of the DDA. Because these changes - and for that matter the DDA itself - only occurred after demands by people with disabilities to the right to be part of their community.

And the recognition by legislators and policy-makers - in Government and in business - that to exclude 18% of the population was not just morally wrong, but a waste of the valuable contribution people with disabilities can and do make to our community.

Many people and organisations have contributed to the growing change in our society.

This is why we are combining this launch with our State and Territory colleagues, and why our publication recognises so many areas of broader achievement.

During these ten years, thousands of individuals and organisations have used the DDA to create change, either by making complaints of discrimination, using the law as a basis for negotiating broad social change or educating organisations on their responsibilities.

There is no doubt there have been many achievements in the decade.

  • Thousands of disability discrimination complaints have been dealt with.
  • Standards for accessible public transport have been adopted and already widely implemented.
  • Telecommunications access has improved for deaf people and other people with disabilities.
  • Negotiations on standards for improved access to buildings and education are in their final stages, and there are many practical instances of improved access in these areas.
  • Captioning of television programs has increased, with further increases being negotiated.
  • There has been widespread adoption by the banking and financial service industry of standards for disability access to ATM'S, internet banking, EFTPOS and phone banking.
  • Hundreds of service providers, particularly local governments and universities, have developed voluntary action plans for improved disability access.

It also has to be acknowledged that there are areas where individuals and advocates have expressed concern and frustration over the limits to the law, and where progress has been more difficult than was hoped when the legislation was passed.

There is clearly still a long way to go towards an equal and accessible Australia that enables people with disabilities to participate fully in the life of our nation. But, as with any long journey, it is useful and encouraging to look at what progress we have made so far, before returning our attention to the road ahead.

The publication I am launching today presents an overview of the history and aims of the DDA, along with the Commission's view of how the different mechanisms within the DDA have worked over the past 10 years to achieve change.

It is not a formal review of the effectiveness of the DDA or the Commission's work, but an attempt to highlight changes worthy of recognition.

There are examples of achievements so far in each of the main areas of DDA coverage.

There are also a number of personal accounts from individuals who have used the different mechanisms within the DDA to achieve change for themselves or on behalf of others.

In fact, you have just heard one such account.

Further material on the DDA and its implementation is available on our website, .

I encourage anyone who is interested in disability discrimination issues to visit this site.

I would like to acknowledge the work of current and former colleagues and staff at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission towards these results.

In particular, the late Elizabeth Hastings, Disability Discrimination Commissioner from 1992 to 1997, and Susan Halliday and Chris Sidoti who acted as Disability Discrimination Commissioner before me.

Of course, many achievements have also involved our colleagues in State and Territory equal opportunity bodies, other areas of government, business and the non-government and Community Legal Centre sectors, particularly the Disability Discrimination legal services.

Most of all, however, I would like to acknowledge those individuals and organisations in the disability community who have seen the value of using the DDA as a tool for achieving equality and those who have contributed to change by their actions.

Without all of you, we would not have the reasons to celebrate that we do today.

You have all either received a copy of the publication today in your preferred formats, or will have it sent to you in the next few days.

I trust that you will become more aware of what has been achieved in the last decade from its pages, and that it will become an ongoing resource for you and others.

The Objects of the DDA aim to achieve a society that is free of discrimination on the grounds of disability, and in which Australians with disabilities achieve much greater equality.

Such a society will be far more beneficial to all of its members.

I am therefore pleased to launch this publication, which takes us further on the road to those objectives.

I would now like to invite you to join me for a light lunch and invite those of you who can to participate in the Forum on Achievements and Challenges.