Everybody has a right to access and use public places, such as shops, restaurants, office blocks, educational institutions, sporting venues, libraries and cinemas.
However, some buildings are constructed or fitted out in a way that can make them inaccessible to people with disability, excluding them from opportunities that other members of the community take for granted.
Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 it is against the law for public places to be inaccessible to people with disability, regardless of whether access to the premises is free or not. This applies to existing premises, as well as premises under construction. A person must not discriminate against someone with disability by:
- not allowing them to access or use the premises, or any public facilities on the premises
- imposing special terms and conditions that they must adhere to in order to access the premises or use any public facilities on the premises
- only allowing access to the premises by a certain means
- requiring them to leave the premises or stop using the facilities.
While changes may take time, people with disability should expect that modifications will be made to make buildings and facilities more accessible, except where this is not reasonable or where another exception applies.
A person with disability can make a complaint of discrimination if a place used by the public is not accessible to them.
What is a public place?
Places used by the public include:
- public footpaths and walkways
- parks, public swimming pools and public toilets
- educational institutions
- office blocks
- shops and department stores
- cafes, restaurants and pubs
- theatres and entertainment venues
- sporting venues, social and sporting clubs
- public transport and aeroplanes
- hospitals and government-run services.
Examples of disability access
Every area and facility open to the public should be open to people with disability. People with disability should expect to be able to enter and make use of public places if a person without disability can do so.
- ensuring public places have an accessible entrance and interior
- providing disability access to facilities in public places, for example wheelchair-accessible toilets, lift buttons within reach, and tactile and audible lift signals for people with vision impairment
- ensuring that people with disability can access all public areas of a premises and not just a segregated area with a facility
- providing any information available to users of a premises in an accessible format, for example signage, labels, directions and instructions.
While changes may take time, people with disability should expect that modifications will be made to make buildings and facilities more accessible, except where this would cause unjustifiable hardship.
The Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards (Premises Standards) came into effect on 1 May 2011 and clarify how designers, developers, managers and building certifiers can ensure buildings are accessible to people with disability.
Find out more about the Premises Standards.
Are there any exceptions to the law?
The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 includes some exceptions, which mean that discrimination will not be against the law in particular circumstances.
Positive steps can also be taken to help disadvantaged groups using special measures, which is not discrimination under the law.
If an exception or special measure does not apply, in some circumstances an exemption from the Act may be sought from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
There are also specific exceptions in relation to disability access to premises. For example, in some circumstances it may be unreasonable to provide complete accessibility to a public building, particularly for existing buildings.
In determining whether it would be unreasonable to provide access to a public building, the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 requires a person to look at all relevant facts and circumstances, including:
- the circumstances of the person with the disability, including the nature of the disability
- the type of measures required to provide equal access (or use) of the premises
- the financial circumstances of the person in charge of the premises
- the consequences for the person in charge of the premises of avoiding the discrimination
- the consequences for the person with disability if the premises are not altered.
A person is also allowed to discriminate against a person with a disability in relation to access to premises if a determination has been made under section 160B of the Building Act 1993 in relation to that building, exempting the building from further modifications being made. In addition, a person can discriminate where they can prove that they comply with a Disability Standard made under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
Make a complaint to the Commission
If you think you have been discriminated against, sexually harassed, or vilified, contact us and talk about your concerns. Our dispute resolution service is free and confidential. We can send you information about the complaint process and if we can’t help you we will try to refer you to someone who can.
To make a complaint:
- contact us by phone, in person or email. We also have a free interpreter service
- submit your complaint online or download our complaint form (DOC, 230KB).
Find out more about making a complaint.