Disability discrimination

What is disability discrimination? 

Disability discrimination is against the law.

It is when you have been treated less favourably than somebody else because:

  • you have a disability 
  • people think you have a disability 
  • you used to have a disability  
  • you may acquire a disability in the future  
  • you are the friend, relative or colleague of a person with disability.  

The law protects a wide range of disabilities and illnesses, including:  

  • physical disabilities 
  • diseases that make a part of the body or brain work differently 
  • mental illnesses or psychiatric disabilities 
  • behavioural disorders
  • intellectual disabilities 
  • learning or cognitive disabilities
  • adverse changes to the body or brain following an accident or surgery 
  • a different formation of a body part 
  • diseases or illnesses caused by a virus or bacteria. 

Indirect discrimination is also against the law. This is when a rule or requirement is the same for everyone but unfairly affects people with disability, and is not reasonable in the circumstances.

In what areas is disability discrimination against the law?  

Disability discrimination is against the law in certain public places, including:  

  • workplaces, such as when you apply for a job or while you are at work  
  • employment agencies, such as when you use recruitment companies 
  • when you access goods and services, such as when you go shopping, do your banking or access medical services  
  • state education, such as when you apply for study and during your studies  
  • accommodation, such as when you rent accommodation   
  • industrial organisations, such as membership of a union 
  • qualifying bodies, such as an institute that issues qualifications 
  • at registered clubs (clubs that sell alcohol or have gambling machines), such as when you try to enter or join a club. 

Workplace adjustments

Your employer should provide you with reasonable adjustments if they are needed to carry out the inherent requirements of your job. If you need adjustments at work, you should speak to your employer or manager about your disability and explain the issues you are experiencing and the adjustments you require. Some examples of workplace adjustments include flexible working hours, remote work options, changes to work premises and specialised hardware, software and equipment.

If you are having difficulty getting workplace adjustments, you can contact us to make a confidential enquiry or complaint

For more resources on workplace adjustments, visit our Workplace Adjustments Series page.

Services or facilities to help you do your job

If you can do the essential parts of your job, employers must also provide any services or facilities you need to do your job – unless it would cause them unjustifiable hardship to do so. For example, you might need to use adaptive equipment or have your breaks at particular times to take medication.

In determining whether or not it would cause unjustifiable hardship to meet your needs, the organisation must consider all the circumstances, including how the proposed changes might benefit other staff members and clients.

Equipment and assistance 

It is against the law for anybody to treat you unfairly because you have an assistance dog, or because you require specific equipment or assistance because of your disability. 

Face masks 

If you think you have been discriminated against because you can’t wear a face mask, you may be able to make a complaint of disability discrimination. The law is complex and there are public health exceptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act that may apply. Contact our enquiry service for more information. 

What can I do if I experience disability discrimination? 

If you think that you have experienced disability discrimination, you can try speaking to the person or organisation responsible to express how you feel. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, or if it isn’t appropriate, you can contact us to make a complaint of discrimination.

If you are unsure if you have experienced disability discrimination or need more information, you can contact our enquiry service. 

Complaint case studies

Ivan felt he was overlooked for a promotion because of his psychiatric disability.
Ali found it difficult to buy concert tickets for his son who has a physical disability.
Last updated:

14 Feb 2024

Was this content useful?
We will use your rating to help improve the site.
Please don't include personal or financial information here
Please don't include personal or financial information here

We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the ongoing connection Aboriginal people have to this land and recognise Aboriginal people as the original custodians of this land.

Top Return to top of page Top