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Scarlett Finney

Scarlett Finney

From the moment I was born my parents made me believe that my disability bore no significance on my ability to enjoy a full life, and always emphasised that I could do anything I wish, just like my able-bodied younger sister.

Until I was 7 years old, I was happy, confident and excited about going to a ‘school in the bush’ as I’d called it. Hills Grammar didn’t feel the same way. They rejected my application, they rejected me, because I have Spina Bifida. I knew what they’d done was wrong, but I couldn’t help feeling that it was personal, that the school didn’t like me.

As a family, we took our discrimination complaint all the way to the Federal Court.I told anyone who would listen that the school’s motto “Strive for Excellence” should include tolerance as well. A cute, 7 year-old’s call for justice was obviously hard to ignore; nation media outlets ran my quotes. I fronted the media with confidence, but on the inside I was hurting.

The unfair way in which Hills Grammar treated me was the first time my disability stood in the way of me being able to do anything, to the point that I was unable to attend my parents’ (and my) first choice of school.

We won the case and the right for others with disability to choose where they go to school. This was no small achievement. It took two years to resolve the case and was not without considerable risk for my family, especially following the school’s appeal to Commissioner Innes’ initial finding.

I’m now 20 and I have a deeper understanding of what this case was about. I’m so grateful – as I’m sure many other Aussies are- that my parents and ultimately, the law, took the matter seriously.

This was such an important area of the law that had not been tested previously and the positive outcome of my case has developed a strong precedent which has made it impossible for any school to exclude any student based on their special needs. 

Even though the discrimination occurred 13 years ago, it is still an element of my life that I reflect upon from time to time as it serves as a reminder to keep moving forward and that virtues such as patience, tolerance and understanding are never forgotten.