Establishing equitable support models for individuals with mental and intellectual impairments to engage in consumer transactions

Exploring consumers’ experiences and requirements at the ‘front-end’ of consumer transactions – the initial entry point into a contract – for telecommunications, finance, utilities, and insurance services.

The primary objective of this research was to establish what supports people with mental and intellectual impairments need when participating in consumer transactions and which support models may assist them to engage more equitably in consumer transactions.  The ultimate aim is to build expertise and tools for wider industry participation in supporting people with disabilities to be fully included as economic actors.

The pilot study examined the ‘front-end’ of consumer transactions – the initial entry point into a contract. This involves focus groups and interviews with persons with mental and intellectual impairments, as well as members of disability support agencies, Community Legal Centres, and industry. There are four industry sectors of interest – telecommunications, finance, utilities, and insurance – wherein the practicality of a support model for consumer interactions will be explored, with a view to trialling and evaluating a support model in subsequent phases of the project.

In addition, a ‘back-end’ study of consumer transactions is currently being developed to examine access to justice/dispute resolution for individuals with mental and intellectual impairments. It will involve a 6-month pilot-study centred in Victoria. Similar to the front-end study, a model of support will be developed to address the support needs of consumers seeking redress for inequitable consumer transactions.

This project is funded by the Melbourne Law School Major Collaborative Fund and is being conducted in partnership with Mind Australia (a not-for-profit mental health service) and Scope (a community disability support service). It is supported by an expert Advisory Board, including representatives from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network; Australian Federation of Disability Organisations; Carers Victoria; the Consumer Action Law Centre; Office of the Public Advocate; Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman; and Victoria Legal Aid.


Bernadette McSherry [Melbourne Social Equity Institute]

Jeannie Paterson [Melbourne Law School]

Anna Arstein-Kerslake [Melbourne Law School]

Lisa Brophy [Melbourne School of Population and Global Health]

Yvette Maker [Melbourne Social Equity Institute]


Helping People with Disabilities to do Consumer Transactions (Easy English Pilot Study Summary) Melbourne: University of Melbourne

Consumer Transactions: Equitable Support Models for Individuals with Decision-making Impairments. Melbourne: University of Melbourne

Journal Articles

Yvette Maker, Jeannie Marie Paterson, Anna Arstein-Kerslake, Bernadette McSherry and Lisa Brophy, ‘From Safety Nets to Support Networks: Beyond “Vulnerability” in Protection for Consumers with Cognitive Disabilities’ (2018) 41(3) UNSW Law Journal818-845.

Yvette Maker, Anna Arstein-Kerslake, Bernadette McSherry, Jeannie Marie Paterson and Lisa Brophy, ‘Ensuring Equality for Persons with Cognitive Disabilities in Consumer Contracting: An International Human Rights Law Perspective’ (2018) 19(1) Melbourne Journal of International Law 178–199.

Yvette Maker, Bernadette McSherry, Jeannie Marie Paterson, Lisa Brophy and Anna Arstein-Kerslake, ‘Supporting People with Decision-making Impairments: Choice, Control and Consumer Transactions’ (2017) 24 Journal of Law and Medicine 756–762.


Submission to the Australian Consumer Law Review, May 2016.