Fighting discrimination

Karli Dettman
People with a disability sometimes find it difficult to speak up for their rights. Julie Phillips helps people ensure they are treated fairly. She provides people with a disability valuable advice about how to complain. Julie says it is important to fight to get your rights recognised. Most of Julie's work is with families who feel they have done everything they can but not had success. Julie believes it is important that people with a disability have supported access to essentials like education, accommodation and healthcare.
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Karli Dettman on 06/09/2011
Julie Phillips in her office surrounded by paper.
Julie Phillips

Julie Phillips: fighting discrimination for people with a disability

I have often read about Julie Phillips and her discrimination work. Julie has worked with many clients over the years. Their legal battles have been widely covered in newspapers, television and radio. Julie always appeared to have so much passion fighting for human rights and equal opportunities.

I have often wanted to know more about Julie and her work. It was wonderful to get the opportunity to interview her recently at her home in Melbourne's northern suburbs. I came away feeling inspired. I also wanted to support Julie's work fighting discrimination for people with a disability.

Friendly and approachable

I first met Julie about 25 years ago when she was working as a case manager for the Victorian Deaf Society (Vicdeaf). I remember she was friendly and approachable. She could also communicate fluently in Auslan (Australian Sign Language).

While working at Vicdeaf in early 2000, Julie got involved with two Deaf families involved in legal action. The matter was abruptly settled on the first day of the court case. Julie was astonished. She realised that if people with a disability fought back they could get their rights recognised. They just have to push, push and don't accept no for an answer, Julie says.

Free advocacy

Julie has worked as a disability advocate and law clerk for the past 10 years. She has provided discrimination advocacy for people with a disability. Most of her work has been at no charge to her clients. Julie's volunteer work includes helping clients to write letters to the Victorian and Australian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissions. She also assists with mediation.

Julie says her work is often very challenging. It can be particularly difficult going up against large legal teams. Julie works with just two lawyers. But her clients are often making claims against organisations with a lot more resources at their disposal. They often have large law firms and senior barristers.

Writing submissions

Julie also has a paid part-time job as a manager at Disability Discrimination Legal Service. Her work includes writing submissions to the Victorian Law Reform Commission. She also provides referrals, information and community education about discrimination. Julie also does some Auslan interpreting work.

I found it interesting that Julie has not studied law. But she certainly has a lot of experience in supporting people who making discrimination complaints. She is also wonderfully altruistic. And Julie certainly understands how many people with a disability are treated unfairly at schools, workplaces and events.

Volunteer work

Julie says 80 per cent of her time doing volunteer work is devoted to families who feel like they have tried everything to fight discrimination with no success. Most of her other work is with adults who have a disability. Many are Deaf adults who face language barriers at their workplace, local events or other community activities.

Julie is passionate about access to education. She says mainstream schools should have to provide qualified Auslan interpreters. Julie believes the Australian Disability Discrimination Act should be stronger. She says a stronger act like in the United States would help ensure students with a disability receive more support. Julie says the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should guide government policy. She says it should lead to laws that ensure people have supported access to essentials like education, accommodation and healthcare.

Readers comments (1)

I need to know my rights about working in education. I am very frustrated and need help and assistance.

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