Scarlett Finney’s legacy lives on for Stephanie!

NSW Department of Education loses Disability Discrimination claim

The newly established Federal Magistrates’ Court yesterday found that the NSW Department of Education had unlawfully discriminated against primary school student, Stephanie Travers. Stephanie claimed, under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, that she was denied access to a disabled toilet at Paramatta West Public School in 1996, and that this caused her embarrassing and distressing consequences.

Stephanie has spina bifida, which results in her suffering bowel and bladder incontinence. The effect of this is that she has a short time from the urge to use her bowel or bladder to get to a toilet and relieve herself. If she does not reach the toilet in time an accident will occur. Nevertheless, Stephanie’s request for access to the disabled toilet located only metres from her classroom, was denied by the school and she was forced to use a toilet much further away. Stephanie left the school in 1996, after her parents formed the view that she could not cope there while she did not have access to the disabled toilet.

After unsuccessful conciliation attempts with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Stephanie’s parents contacted the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), following its representation of Scarlett Finney against the Hills Grammar School in a test case under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Federal Magistrate Raphael found that it would have been reasonable in all the circumstances for Stephanie to have been given a key to the disabled toilet. He found that, whilst Paramatta West Public School had no intention of discriminating against Stephanie, the very fact that they required her to utilise a toilet which was not the most accessible toilet during 1996 amounted to unlawful discrimination.

Stephanie said:

‘I was treated very badly at the school. Another student who was in a wheelchair was allowed to use the toilet but I wasn’t. The school got it all wrong.’

Mrs Wendy Travers said:

‘This is a great victory for Stephanie and other children who have hidden physical disabilities. We were appalled to learn from the court case that the Principal and Deputy of the School had no qualifications on integration and that the school made an unqualified medical diagnosis of Stephanie’s toileting needs without parental input. We will be taking the matters raised by our case up with the Minister in an attempt to have the Department review its disability integration policy.”

Alexis Goodstone, solicitor of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) said:

“The decision is a vindication for Stephanie. It puts schools on notice as to their legal obligations under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act, and highlights the continuing need for the NSW Department of Education to lift its game in relation to students with disabilities.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Dominic O’Grady, Media and Communications Officer,
Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Ph: 02 8898 6532 or 0400 110 169

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