‘It was absolutely worth it’: Scarlett v Hills Grammar

‘From a very young age my parents worked hard to instil the belief in me that my disability is not a problem, and I could still do anything I wish, just like my able bodied younger sister,’ says Scarlett Finney.

‘The unfair way in which Hills Grammar treated me was the first time my disability stood in the way of me being able to do anything, to the point that I was unable to attend my parents’ (and my) first choice of school.

‘Being of such a young age at the time that the discrimination occurred, my understanding was quite limited to the extent that I believed the school did not want me to attend Hills Grammar because they didn’t like me personally.

‘As a little girl, I found this to be extremely upsetting.’

Scarlett’s battle with the Hills District Grammar School in 1998 was the first real test of the federal Disability Discrimination Act in relation to school education. The case put all schools on notice about their obligations towards students with disability.

Scarlett (pictured) was born with spina bifida. Scarlett could walk short distances and otherwise used a wheelchair. Hills Grammar School rejected her application for enrolment on the ground of her disability.

PIAC represented Scarlett in her ultimately successful disability discrimination claim against the school.

‘Now at the age of 20, I have a deeper understanding of the issues involved with my discrimination case and feel very thankful to my parents and our legal representation for taking this important matter so seriously and having the issue of access in education tested in such a significant way.

‘This was such an important area of the law that had not been tested previously and the positive outcome of my case has developed a strong precedent which has made it impossible for any school to exclude any student based on their special needs.

‘This was no small feat, proven by the fact it took two years to resolve the case but it was absolutely worth it.’

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