Vision impairment is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act.
The Act makes it against the law to treat someone unfavourably or differently because of their disability in many areas of public life including employment, education, getting or using services, renting or buying a house and accessing public places. There are some limited exceptions and exemptions.
Employers have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace so that an employee with a disability can do their job effectively.
Failure to do so may amount to discrimination.
There are a range of adjustments that can be made in the workplace to accommodate a person with a vision impairment. These include:
- Modifying a workspace by taking away clutter and improving lighting
- Providing written information in alternative accessible formats, such as accessible work documents, braille or audio
- Providing screen reading software or other vision aides such as hand held magnifiers
The Federal Government can provide financial assistance for workplace adjustments for employees with disabilities through the Job Access Scheme.
It is not unlawful to discriminate against an employee on the basis of disability if the person cannot perform the inherent requirements of a job after reasonable adjustments have been made.
What constitutes discrimination?
Discrimination occurs when a person, or a group of people, is treated less favourably than another person or group because of their background or certain personal characteristics.
Federal discrimination laws protect people from discrimination on the basis of their:
- Race, including colour, national or ethnic origin or immigrant status
- Sex, marital status, or because they are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status
What is harassment?
Harassment can include behaviour such as:
- Telling insulting jokes about particular racial groups
- Sending explicit or sexually suggestive emails or text messages
- Displaying derogatory comments or taunts about a person’s disability
- Asking intrusive questions about someone’s personal life, including his or her sex life
What is bullying?
Bullying behaviour can range from obvious verbal or physical assault to subtle psychological abuse. It can include:
- Physical or verbal abuse
- Yelling, screaming or using offensive language
- Excluding or isolating employees
- Psychological harassment
- Assigning meaningless tasks unrelated to the job
- Giving employees impossible jobs
- Deliberately changed work rosters to inconvenience particular employees
- Undermining work performance by deliberately withholding information vital for effective work performance
What does not constitute discrimination?
Legitimate comments and advice, including relevant negative feedback from managers and supervisors on the work performance or work-related behaviour of an individual or group should not be confused with bullying, harassment or discrimination.
Where can I go if I’m experiencing discrimination?
If you think you have been harassed or discriminated against because of your disability the first step is to try to resolve the issue with the other person/s.
If the discrimination or harassment is happening in the workplace, discuss the issue with your employer. Many employers have a complaints procedure or a disability contact officer (usually within the human resources department) who can discuss workplace problems and concerns with you.
If you are unable to resolve the issue, you can make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. You can also complain to State and Territory organisations responsible for anti-discrimination.
Making a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission
Your complaint needs to be put in writing and should include:
- What happened
- When it happened
- Where it happened
- Who was involved
- The names of anyone else who can say what happened
If you cannot write down your complaint, you can have someone assist you, or ask the Australian Human Rights Commission to help you write it down. For more information, visit the Commission’s website or phone 1300 656 419.
The Australian Human Rights Commission then decides if they are legally able to investigate your complaint. If they cannot deal with your complaint, they will write to you and explain why. If they decide to investigate, this may include contacting the other person/s involved, to get their side of the story. The Australian Human Rights Commission will then work with you and the other person/s to find a solution that everyone can agree with. This is called conciliation. If conciliation does not work, you can decide whether or not to take your complaint to court.
Contacting the Fair Work Ombudsman to settle disputes
The Fair Work Ombudsman website can give you information on settling workplace disputes. It can tell you how to lodge claims if you think you have unlawfully lost your job due to your disability. It can also help if you have been discriminated against in some other way.
Tips for handling the problem yourself
- Write things down when they happen or as soon as you can afterwards. Record times, dates, names and what people said and did. You can use this to support your complaint later on.
- Keep a copy of any letters or emails you send or receive, and don’t throw out any other relevant paperwork.
- Try to stay calm. Being treated unfairly can be upsetting, but try not to talk to anyone involved when you are angry or distressed. When you feel like this, talk to a friend, or a counsellor, or write down how you feel.
- Ask for help. Confronting someone about a discrimination problem is hard to do on your own. It might be easier if you have a friend, relative, workmate or union representative there with you.
- Remember that there are time limits on starting legal action. If you want to try non-legal options but you’re getting close to the deadline, you can start legal action and then ask for it to be put on hold while you keep trying the non-legal options.
If you believe you have been discriminated at work, you may wish to enlist the support of an advocate. They can provide you with advice and support if you choose to handle the matter yourself, and will be able to support you if you choose to make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission or the Fair Work Ombudsman. Blind Citizens Australia offers a free advocacy service, more information is available here.
These documents provide general information only on the subject of discrimination. They are not intended, nor should they be relied on, as a substitute for legal or other professional advice. If required, it is recommended that you obtain independent legal advice. The information contained in these documents may be amended from time to time.