Other Ways to Exercise Rights
Other avenues are available to people with disabilities (or a friend or relative) to exercise their rights.
- The media: current affairs shows are keen to expose consumer rip-offs, especially where someone such as a person with an intellectual disability has been taken advantage of;
- The Office of Consumer Affairs will investigate complaints about fraudulent or unfair commercial practices and, although Consumer Affairs cannot force a trader to remedy a complaint, most traders do not wish to be off-side with it, such that the result is often full or partial satisfaction for the consumer;
- The civil division of the Magistrates Court or the Small Claims Court: these courts can deal with a dispute involving a contract between a consumer and a trader for the supply of goods or services (for example, where a person has bought a washing machine which is defective, or where a person has their car repaired but is not happy with the quality of the work). The Small Claims Court can only deal with disputes involving less than $3,000. It can order that money be repaid or that works be carried out.
Complaints about an infringement of rights can be taken to a local Member of Parliament. It is their job to follow up a complaint. When approaching a Member of Parliament it is best to:
- see them in person — make an appointment;
- present a written account of complaints;
- take someone along for support.
Complaints and representations to Members of Parliament and the relevant Minister can be effective but must be followed up. Representations by action groups, or collective representation for common complaints, may also be an effective way of drawing attention to particular problems.
Complaints can also be directed to the Ombudsman.
The media can be a useful tool in bringing abuses of the rights of disabled people to public attention. However individual person with a disability should take care as the media can also abuse their rights.
Very often problems can be sorted out satisfactorily through negotiation before legal action is taken. One of the problems in negotiation for disabled people and their advocates, is that they often feel themselves to be powerless and can be intimidated by an organisation or by ‘able’ people.
In many cases negotiation using a third person (for example, a lawyer) adds balance to the negotiation. This also adds credibility to the person with a disability’s case.
A ‘citizen advocate’ is an ordinary member of the community who becomes a long-term friend and adviser for a person with an intellectual disability. The advocate can help the person with an intellectual disability in making a complaint, for example, by complaining to the Ombudsman on behalf of a person with a disability.
Ideally, most citizen advocates would be trained by and registered with a local citizen advocacy office. However many people become citizen advocates simply by forming a friendship with a person with a disability.
Citizen advocates have no formal legal status. However, Government departments and other organisations are developing greater recognition of the value of citizen advocacy and are often willing to give advocates the same sort of informal recognition that they give to the next-of-kin of disabled people.