Handicapped by discrimination

Kate Giles
People do not always treat me like they should. But I have learnt to stand up for my rights. Standing up can help bring about change. A good example is when a bus driver would not let my friend and I use my Companion Card. I complained to the bus company. The bus company wrote new rules to help customers with a disability. Kelly had a similar problem at a venue. She went to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. The venue had to change their policy and teach all their staff.
Posted by: 
Kate Giles on 24/08/2011
A woman using a wheelchair is driving up a ramp and onto an accessible bus

Changes were quickly made after we stood up for our rights

A disability isn't a handicap. Discrimination is. This is the latest advertisement from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

I have experienced discrimination regularly over the years. But I have learnt the advantages of standing up for my rights. Some examples include:

  • Commanding respect for my situation and my rights
  • Taking control of a bad situation
  • Helping change negative attitudes towards people with a disability
  • Assisting in changing discriminatory practices
  • Teaching people to be more considerate.

It can be empowering knowing that you are helping to make changes that will benefit others.

Travelling on a bus

I remember the time when I was travelling on a bus with my friend. I had a Vision Impaired Travel Pass and a Companion Card. In this situation, no tickets are needed. However, my friend was told she must have a ticket. There was an argument but we stood our ground. We were ordered off the bus. We refused. We asked to speak to someone of higher authority. Our request was denied. We were also publicly accused of stopping the bus from leaving. In the end, the bus left 15 minutes late. However, we were still on board. Even though it was humiliating and embarrassing, we stood up for our rights.

Changes were quickly made after we instigated a meeting with the manager. The ticket officer was reprimanded and counselled. Further training into workplace practices and in particular the rights of people with disabilities were immediately put into place. The company policies were re-written to better clarify the use of passes. My friend and I each received a letter of apology.

Positive results

I have also heard of many similar incidents having positive results.

Kelly is a Companion Card holder. She recently had problems using the card at a well-known venue. My husband was denied free entrance despite a sign clearly it stating Companion Cards were accepted, Kelly says. The ticket seller insisted my husband must have a carer's pension. He said this was their policy regarding the use of Companion Cards. Kelly asked for the manager. But the manager agreed with the ticket seller. When I mentioned that the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission may be interested in the issue, she laughed. She said the commission had no bearing on their operations.

Getting nowhere

Kelly says she was amazed at the attitude of the manager. I tried talking to her, but she became quite nasty. I knew that I was getting nowhere. The only thing left to do was to pay the entrance fee and go to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission later to help solve the problem.

Kelly was pleased with the outcome. The owners and the staff were quickly shown the inaccuracies within their policies. They were obliged to take notice. It wasn't about the compensation they had to pay to myself and my husband. It was the fact that they were legally required to change their practices and re-educate their staff. I felt quite proud that I had instigated these changes.

Need assistance

Many of us sometimes need assistance. The Companion Card is a great help. It can allow us to be accompanied by a support person free of charge. Companies that support the card agree to not discriminate against people with a disability.

It is disappointing that every day we hear stories of discrimination. Sometimes they are caused through badly written policies. Other times it is through lack of appropriate education. Discrimination might even be caused by plain rudeness. But there can be severe legal consequences for those who do the wrong thing.

The Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission says its role is to educate people about human rights and responsibilities. The commission advocates for human rights and their protection. It can also help resolve complaints of discrimination.

Fortunately, in many cases discrimination can be dealt with on a personal level. Just speaking up and making someone aware of your rights can often make a difference. But when all else fails, we have the commission to help us. Their services are free. Why not use them and help right a wrong?


You can share your experiences of standing up against discrimination in the comments section below.

Readers comments (3)

Disgraceful cheek of the Manager.

Our HR process nedds to be allowed to ENFORCE anti discrimination law. Needs to be much better than a measly mediation only process which usually misses the mark.

Good on you for standing up for your rights more disabled need to do this

Hi Kelly ,

Been in the same situation at the Ballarat Regent theater,as my companion card was reject at the Regent theater a few times .Even went to meditation but was given advice that i would loose at VCAT so don't try the Regent theater in Ballarat

How silly: the companion card is about the fact that there are places that would be difficult or impossible for you to access alone..... nothing to do with the income status of your companion!

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