"That's not fair!"

That's Not Fair!


Under the Disability Standards for Education 2005, students with disability have a right to access education on the same basis as other students. This means they should have opportunities and choices that are comparable to those available to students without disability. Education providers usually make adjustments to practices, services, policies or procedures to comply with the Disability Standards for Education.

If reasonable adjustments are not made, and a student with disability is not able to participate in education on the same basis as other students, the education provider could be discriminating against the student with disability. Discrimination against students with disability is not permitted under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

Read more - In brief: If you are a student with disability and things aren't going well


Discrimination, under the Disability Discrimination Act, occurs when someone with a disability is treated less favourably than a person without a disability in similar circumstances. Discrimination can be direct or indirect.

Raising Concerns or Complaints

Under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act it is against the law to:

  • Treat a person unfairly because of their disability
  • Not comply with the Disability Standards for Education.

If you believe you or your child have been treated unfairly it is a good idea first to discuss this directly with the teacher (if it is a classroom issue) or the principal (if it is a school issue). This may clarify misunderstandings. Concerns are more easily resolved at the school level.

If this does not solve the problem, you can discuss your concerns with an education authority such as a State or Territory Education Department, or a body which oversees a non-government education provider.

Finally, if the issue still can not be resolved, you can take your complaint to a legal authority, such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, or the equivalent body in your State or Territory.

These three stages are described in more detail below.

  1. Discuss directly with the school
  1. Discuss with an education authority
  1. Complain to another authority

In the first instance, it is advisable to discuss your concerns with the person or organisation you believe is responsible for the discrimination. This is best done by:

  • Asking for a meeting to discuss the issue
  • Writing a letter or email about what has happened and how you would like it fixed, as this can be a useful way to organise thoughts.

If you are still not satisfied, you can discuss the issue with an education authority.

Australian schools are governed by different education authorities:

  • Government schools are governed by a State or Territory education authority (such as an ‘Education Department’).
  • Non-government Catholic schools are usually governed by a Catholic education authority in each State or Territory (such as a ‘Catholic Education Commission’).
  • Other non-government schools may be governed by a church or religious organisation (such as the Anglican Diocese, or the Seventh Day Adventist Church).
  • Some non-government schools are not governed by any higher authority, but are answerable to a School Board. You can make a complaint to the Chair of the Board which governs your school or educational facility.

If you believe you or your child have been unlawfully discriminated against because of a disability, you have a right to discuss your concerns and make a formal complaint to an anti-discrimination authority, such as:

  • An anti-discrimination agency in your State or Territory (such as an ‘Anti-Discrimination Board’)
  • The Australian Human Rights Commission (which investigates complaints under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act).

First discuss the problem with the people involved

Video: Working Together (Helen)

Download video transcript
Helen, who has a child with disability, speaks about the importance of maintaining a collaborative approach to resolving complaints if things go wrong at school.

Working Together (Helen), Association for Children with a Disability, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 International licence.

Students with disability have a right to fair treatment

Who Do I Approach for Information and Advice?

Information is available from a range of agencies which have expertise in Discrimination Law. These bodies have different names, depending on the State or Territory where they are located. You can search for these bodies on the internet using search terms such as 'The Australian Human Rights Commission'; 'Anti-Discrimination Board' or 'Anti-Discrimination Commission'; and 'Equal Opportunity Board' or 'Equal Opportunity Commission'.

Read more - Disability Standards for Education Fact Sheet 5
Read more - AHRC Complaints Process


If you think a student with disability is being treated unfairly, you should first discuss your concerns with the education provider. If you are unable to resolve the issue and you still believe the student is being treated unfairly, you can choose to raise the issue with your school’s education authority. If the school’s education authority is unable to resolve the issue, you have a right to make a formal complaint to an anti-discrimination authority. Treating students with disability unfairly because of their disability is discrimination and is unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act.