Transforming disability law

Associate Professor Piers Gooding is addressing the systemic injustices faced by people with disabilities

Associate Professor Piers Gooding, a leading expert in disability and mental health-related law and policy, has recently joined the La Trobe Law School with a commitment to addressing the systemic injustices faced by people with disabilities.

“In Australia, almost one in five people have some form of disability,” says Associate Professor Gooding.

“And the recent Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disabilities highlighted that disabled people are over-represented in prisons, institutionalised and segregated within communities, marginalised in schools, confined in mental health facilities, incarcerated in detention centres, and trapped within their own homes.”

The law can positively address these issues but, as Associate Professor Gooding explains, it can also reinforce them.

“Teasing apart how the law can be helpful and harmful can be complex, and legal scholarship has a vital place in resolving these contradictions,” he says.

“Traditional formulations of law and policy have viewed disability as something requiring a separate and 'special' system, but those ‘protective’ approaches – in education, employment and even justice – can do more harm than good.”

“In academia, disability has also been overlooked in fields like law, policy and public administration. This has contributed to a poor understanding of the issues raised by disability, including what it means to provide care and reasonable adjustments.”

Previously, Associate Professor Gooding has conducted research with a range of government and non-governmental agencies internationally. His investigations into coercion in mental health settings, supported decision-making in international law, and the implications of automating care labour in mental health contexts are just some of his notable works.

Now, bringing his wealth of expertise to the La Trobe Law School and collaborating with colleagues from other disciplines, Associate Professor Gooding hopes to further advance legal scholarship in disability and health law and policy.

“I am delighted to be part of the La Trobe Law School and work with those in other parts of the university who have deep knowledge of disability and mental health-related law and policy,” he says.

“We are currently focused on issues like the expansion of the care economy, social security law, public international law, and policies related to people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities.”