Disability rights and responsibilities

 Our site also has specific information about different disabilities.

Every child should have access to an education. This page explains the laws in place to make sure students with disability have the right to take part in education on the same basis as their peers without disability.

The information can help you work with schools and other education providers to support your child’s needs.

For an Easy English version of this topic see:

What the law says

The Disability Discrimination Act says it’s against the law to discriminate against someone because of their disability.

The Disability Standards for Education explain what these laws mean for students with disability. The standards say students with disability have the same right to take part in their education as students without disability.

All education providers must meet the Disability Standards for Education. Examples of education providers are:

  • kindergartens
  • government, independent and Catholic schools
  • TAFEs
  • universities.

The Disability Standards for Education apply to all parts of school life including in the classroom, sport, excursions and camps.

What disability means

Disability can be complex to determine. It can also change as a child grows and their needs change.

The Disability Discrimination Act’s definition of disability includes physical, intellectual, mental health and learning disabilities and disorders.

It includes people who may not consider themselves as having a disability. For example, the definition considers a person to have a disability if they:

  • have a broken limb because of an accident
  • are temporarily using crutches or a wheelchair.

Children and students with disability are protected under state and federal anti-discrimination laws, including the Disability Standards for Education. They do not need to be eligible for extra programs or funding for the law to protect them.

Your child’s rights

The Disability Standards for Education say your child has rights at all stages of their education – from when they first enrol to the time they finish.

Enrolment

An education provider cannot refuse to enrol your child because of their disability.

Your child has the right to enrol with their designated neighbourhood mainstream government education provider, on the same basis as their peers without disability.

The curriculum

Your child has the right to take part in education courses and programs on the same basis as children without disability.

The education provider must take reasonable steps to make sure their courses are designed so your child can take part. This includes teaching materials, assessments and supplementary programs.

The education provider must talk to you and your child about whether their disability affects their ability to take part. They’ll also talk to you about any adjustments that may be needed for your child's education program. They'll then decide on what reasonable adjustments can be made for your child.

Participation

Your child has the right to take part in all education courses or programs on the same basis as their peers. Your child may need some reasonable adjustments to make sure they can take part.

Education courses or programs may include activities that are not conducted in classrooms, which are part of the broader education program. For example:

  • school excursions and camps
  • performances and concerts
  • work experience
  • social events.

For example, a school could hire a wheelchair accessible bus for an excursion. A school could also show a student photographs of class routines – so they know what to expect and can join in.

There may be times when your child’s disability prevents them taking part in an activity. The education provider should work with you and your child to offer an activity with the same opportunities to learn.

Support services

Your child has a right to student support services, to enable them to access their education on the same basis as their peers without disability.

Examples of support services could include homework clubs or career advice.

Children and students with disability also have rights in relation to specialist support services that are reasonable adjustments needed for them to take part in education activities.

For example – health support, or services provided by allied health professionals such as speech pathologists or psychologists.

Responsibilities of education providers

For children and students with disability, schools and other education providers must:

  • consult with you and your child
  • make reasonable adjustments
  • develop and carry out strategies to prevent harassment and victimisation.

Consult with you and your child

In making any reasonable adjustments, an education provider will talk to you and your child about:

  • whether the adjustment is reasonable
  • how the adjustment would be able to support your child’s needs
  • what other adjustments could be less disruptive but still beneficial for your child.

Usually, it’s the principal, wellbeing coordinator or teacher who will discuss reasonable adjustments with you.

This may involve meeting (like at a student support group meeting) to talk about:

  • how your child’s disability might affect the way they learn
  • what support and reasonable adjustments could meet your child’s needs
  • how previous reasonable adjustments are meeting your child’s needs.

The education provider may also consult with other people if needed. For example, a health professional or social worker.

The education provider should consult you throughout your child’s education, not just when they enrol.

Make reasonable adjustments

An education provider must make reasonable adjustments for your child. This is to help make sure they have the same opportunities to take part in education as their peers.

For example, an education provider could:

  • provide equipment, like screen readers
  • modify the curriculum and assessments
  • bring in specialist staff to work with your child or their teacher, like a psychologist
  • give extra time to complete an exam or assessment, or give rest breaks.

The education provider must take reasonable steps to make adjustments in a reasonable time. They should not ask you to pay for any reasonable adjustments.

Education providers do not need to make a change that:

  • is not a reasonable adjustment
  • would cause them ‘unjustifiable hardship’.

This does not apply to their responsibility to prevent harassment and victimisation.

Adjustments are reasonable when they balance the interests of anyone they affect. When deciding if an adjustment is reasonable, the education provider should consider relevant circumstances and interests. This includes the views of you and your child.

Prevent harassment and victimisation

An education provider must have plans in place to prevent harassment and victimisation of students with disability. This includes ‘associates’ of the child, like a parent or carer.

Harassment includes any action taken because of a person’s disability that could humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress them.

Victimisation is when someone is treated unfairly because they complained (or may complain) about the way they were treated because of their disability. This includes threats.

Working with your child’s education provider

Working closely with education providers can help give your child the best chance to achieve their potential.

You can speak to your child’s education provider about rights and responsibilities at any time.

Find out more about working with your child’s education provider, including how to meet with your child’s teacher.

Raising a concern

You can complain if you believe your child has been discriminated against because of their disability.

Discrimination is when someone is treated less favourably because of their disability, or when someone is subjected to a condition, requirement, or practice which disadvantages them because of their disability.

Your child may have been discriminated against if:

  • they do not have the same opportunities as their peers without disability
  • the school or education provider has not made reasonable adjustments for them.

Talk to the school or education provider first. They can help resolve your concern.

If you’re unhappy with how the education provider handled your concern, use our complaints process.

More help and advice

For more information about rights, visit the Disability Standards for Education guide for parents.

You can contact your closest regional office to talk about school process and local support for children and students with disability.

There are organisations who can provide advice on the rights of children and students with disability:

You can also search for advocacy services for further support. ​