Where to get help with disability advocacy

Disability-related legal issues require specialist legal advocacy to support people to better understand and exercise their legal rights. A number of legal centres and health commissioners support disability rights and mental health policy reform in Victoria.

See also listing of relevant organisations at the end of Understanding disability and the law.

Lawyers

Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service

Villamanta is a state-wide community-based legal service that works only on disability-related legal issues, with a primary focus on issues that affect people who have an intellectual disability.

Villamanta provides:

a toll-free line for advice, information and referral;

casework on disability-related legal issues;

community education on the rights of people who have a disability, primarily for people who have a disability;

lobbying of government and other bodies about laws and policies that affect people who have a disability;

sales of books on disability related issues (see Villamanta’s website);

free information sheets on a range of disability rights topics (available on the website); and

training for service providers on a range of disability rights issues (available for a fee).

SeeContacts” in Understanding disability and the law, for further details.

Mental Health Legal Centre

The Mental Health Legal Centre (MHLC) is a community legal centre that provides a free, confidential and independent legal service to people in Victoria who have experienced mental illness or have had contact with mental health services. All MHLC activities aim to promote the rights of people who have a psychiatric or psychological disability, through legal advocacy

The MHLC offers a telephone legal advice line on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6.30 – 8.30 pm.

Inside Access

Inside Access is a project of the MHLC. It provides free civil legal services to people with cognitive impairment and mental health issues within correctional and forensic facilities in Victoria. Inside Access provides practical legal assistance while our clients are incarcerated with a view to supporting an easier transition to the community on release. Through Inside Access, MHLC also undertakes research, law reform and policy work in relation to issues of mental health and the law.

Inside Access also provides legal education programs to prisoners in Victorian Correctional facilities and forensic patients within the Thomas Embling Hospital to help them better understand and exercise their legal rights.

Independent Mental Health Advocacy

Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) is a new state-wide advocacy service for people receiving compulsory psychiatric treatment. The service will be provided to people in inpatient, community and forensic settings, and advocates will outreach to services across Victoria. IMHA will be provided by Victoria Legal Aid but is not a legal service.

Advocates will support and assist consumers to make or participate in decisions about their treatment, care and recovery, including:

engaging with consumers to discuss and clarify their preferences and wishes;

providing information about the mental health system and assisting consumers to understand their rights and to act on them;

engaging and advocating directly with the person’s treating team, family or other support services, or provide support and coaching for consumers to self-advocate.

People who are currently subject to a treatment order, or service providers who wish to make a referral, can do so through the IMHA phone line on 1300 947 820 or by visiting www.imha.vic.gov.au. The phone line is open Monday to Friday, from 9.30 am–4.30 pm.

For more information about IMHA or to find out when an advocate will be visiting a mental health facility, email contact@imha.vic.gov.au.

Disability Discrimination Legal Service

The Disability Discrimination Legal Service (DDLS) is a free community legal centre working towards the eradication of disability discrimination. DDLS facilitates and promotes justice for people with disabilities through:

providing assistance to prepare and lodge complaints about disability discrimination to the relevant human rights commission;

running discrimination cases at VCAT, the Federal Circuit Court and the Federal Court;

community legal education sessions to professional and community groups to raise disability awareness and provide information on the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) and Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic); and

community development research projects to investigate and challenge current social, economic and legislative issues affecting people with disabilities in the community.

DDLS handles discrimination cases with the intention of achieving a positive outcome for clients and setting precedents that will benefit a large number of people with disabilities. A priority of DDLS casework is raising public awareness of disability discrimination, so cases with potential for a high level of public interest are given preference. Solicitors also give free legal advice sessions by telephone.

DDLS provides an information and referral service and can be contacted by telephone, fax, mail or email. DDLS also provides volunteers and students with training, support and supervision to assist it to provide these services.

SeeContacts” in Understanding disability and the law, for further details.

Association of Employees with a Disability

The Association of Employees with a Disability (AED) provides free legal advocacy for people with disability who experience difficulties and/or discrimination in the areas of employment and education. It is a state-wide service. AED also provides a legal service every Wednesday night from 6.30 pm onwards. This service is staffed by volunteer law students and legal practitioners under the supervision of AED Staff. Appointments are necessary. Although the focus of AED’s work is to seek legal remedies in cases of disability discrimination, AED operates within a human rights framework to promote and protect the rights of people with disability and give them better access to justice in employment and education through the legal arena. For further details, seeContacts” in Understanding disability and the law.

Other sources of legal advice

A private lawyer, community legal centre or Victoria Legal Aid may also be able to assist with legal issues relating to disability, treatment or discrimination (see Legal services that can help).

Health Services Commissioner

The Office of the Health Services Commissioner was established under the Health Services (Conciliation and Review) Act 1987 (Vic) to receive complaints from consumers about the quality, suitability and timeliness of health care services provided throughout Victoria.

The Commissioner’s office resolves complaints through alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. On 1 July 2014 the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner commenced operation as a specialist body to receive and resolve complaints about public mental health services. In the case of mental health services the Health Services Commissioner continues to receive complaints about private sector mental health service providers.

Under the Health Records Act 2001 (Vic), the Commissioner deals with complaints about the handling of health information and breaches of privacy in relation to health information in both the public and private sectors and access to health records held by private organisations (seeHealth Records Act” in Privacy and your rights).

Disability Services Commissioner

The Disability Services Commissioner is an independent body that provides free advice and assistance in the resolution of complaints about Victorian disability services.

This includes complaints about disability supports:

provided by the Department of Health and Human Services, registered disability service providers, and funded and contracted service providers under the Disability Act 2006 (Vic); or

funded by the National Disability Insurance Agency in the Barwon launch site that are provided by registered disability service providers; or

funded by the Traffic Accident Commission (TAC) that are provided by TAC authorised registered service providers.

Mental Health Complaints Commissioner

The Mental Health Complaints Commissioner is an independent, specialist complaints organisation created by the Mental Health Act 2014 (Vic) to help resolve complaints about Victorian public mental health services and to recommend improvements.

The Commissioner deals with complaints about public mental health services. This includes publicly funded mental health community support services and NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) funded mental health community support services.

The Commissioner can help with complaints about a person’s experience with a service, including accessing a service or about treatment or care.

Mental Health Complaints Commissioner

Tel: 1800 246 054

Email: help@mhcc.vic.gov.au

Web: www.mhcc.vic.gov.au

Equal opportunity commissions

It is unlawful to discriminate against any person who has, or has previously had, a disability in the following areas:

employment (including matters concerning an application for employment, dismissal, terms and benefits of employment, training and promotion);

provision of goods and services (including banking, retailing, insurance and entertainment);

education;

clubs and community organisations (if receiving government assistance or on government land);

accommodation;

sport;

local government;

administration of Commonwealth laws and programs; and

disposal of land.

There are exceptions to these; it is advisable to contact the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission or the Australian Human Rights Commission if you believe you have been discriminated against because of a disability (for further information and contacts, see Discrimination and human rights).

Contacts and resources