Your Story Disability Legal Support update—Issue 25, September 2023

In this issue ...

Brain injuries: Kerry is 1 in 45

Dear Supporter,

One in 45 Australians live with a brain injury, including me.

I oversee the delivery of Your Story services that are provided in Victoria by lawyer Michelle Bowler from Victoria Legal Aid.

During August we marked Brain Injury Awareness Week. The theme for that week - Brain injury is more than you see, think and feel - was very pertinent. It reminds us that brain injury is a complex disability that is not always visible and can significantly affect how people think and feel as they recover and reintegrate into everyday life.

The photos below are of me, and my brain, when I was in hospital recovering from surgery.

So many changes

An acquired brain injury refers to any injury, or damage, to the brain that occurs after birth. After the injury, people commonly feel differently and can experience changes in their personality, behaviour and thinking. These changes can put pressure on relationships and make it difficult to return to work and other activities. Navigating the everyday world can be challenging because of issues such as fatigue, communication difficulties, and being overwhelmed by sound, light or other environmental factors.

As the manager of Michelle, the Your Story lawyer in Victoria, I actively support her efforts to explore services and need across a broad range of disabilities. This includes those that impact on people’s communication or their access.  As a manager at Victoria Legal Aid, and more broadly, I advocate for greater understanding of diversity and greater awareness about the importance of occupation for everyone, regardless of their disability or identity.

Shannon's story and our shared vision

I co-chair the Disability Employee Network at Victoria Legal Aid with my colleague Shannon Clifford (she’s pictured with the head scarf). Both of us have undergone major brain surgeries that caused injury.

This has given us significant insight into the importance of supporting, acknowledging and understanding our colleagues and clients who may have a brain injury.

Shannon discovered a large arteriovenous malformation in her left temporal lobe, which resulted in a craniotomy and lengthy stay in a hospital’s high dependency unit. Ultimately, Shannon was left with both aphasia (‘the loss of words’) and temporal lobe epilepsy.

Shannon’s aphasia is now less severe than it once was. She recalls her young son teaching her to read flash cards, and grade two school books, until the words would connect. 

Shannon and I are passionate about making positive change, despite our own challenges. We hope the actions we take each day in our personal and professional lives will create that change. We hope that, like the butterfly effect, these small and positive actions can lead to big and lasting improvements.

The changes we foster – that raise awareness, challenge assumptions and sometimes make us feel uncomfortable – are essential steps towards a more inclusive and functional society.

By Kerry Townsend

Learning more about brain injury

Your Story staff recently undertook new training about working with people with brain injuries.

We regularly undertake training of this sort to ensure we are attentive to the needs of our various clients. The training provided a wealth of information and will further enhance our ability to support, and communicate with, people with a brain injury.

The training was delivered by Synapse, a national organisation that provides a range of support services for people impacted by brain injury and disability.

Our trainer, Michael, explained how the cognitive effects of brain injury can include difficulties relating to memory, attention and concentration, as well as difficulty with motivation or making decisions. Physical effects can include fatigue, sleep issues, headaches, epilepsy, and sensory and perceptual difficulties. Michael also highlighted psychological effects such as depression, anxiety, impulsivity, memory loss and difficulty with problem-solving. Behavioural effects can include changes in mood, personality and cognition.

Brain injury can present in many different ways, including:

• difficulty in seeing objects and colours accurately
• reduced sensations of touch, pressure, temperature or pain
• difficulty in understanding or using words and numbers.

Visit the Synapse website. That website provides information about brain injury and supports that are available.

Guide Dogs open day

We were pleased to attend a recent Guide Dogs event in Sydney where we highlighted the free support we offer.

The open day provided information about supports and services for people with low vision or blindness. This included demonstrations of assistive technology, braille typewriting, mobility aids and more.

It was an informative and fun day featuring live music and, of course, talented Guide Dogs!

Find out more about Guide Dogs Australia.

Disability Pride

Victorian Your Story Lawyer Michelle attended a celebration of Disability Pride in Ballarat.

The event was organised by Mark Thompson from VALID - the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability. It was fantastic to hear from local speakers, enjoy afternoon tea and take part in mindfulness activities.

Michelle and Michael are shown in the photo with the Disability Pride flag. At this event, the flag was on display and all its colours were explained.

What do the Disability Pride flag colours represent?

RED: physical disabilities

YELLOW: neurodiversity, including cognitive and intellectual disabilities

WHITE: invisible and undiagnosed disabilities

BLUE: mental illness

GREEN: sensory perception disabilities including deafness, blindness, lack of smell, lack of taste, audio processing disorder, and all other sensory disabilities

BLACK: represents people with disability who have lost their lives due not only to their illness, but also to negligence, suicide and eugenics

Record numbers at Hunter Homeless Connect Day

Disability and homelessness can be closely linked. 

Jack from Your Story NSW recently attended the Hunter Homeless Connect Day in Newcastle. This large event brought together organisations that support people experiencing homelessness .

More than 1,400 people attended and about 130 services were represented, including Legal Aid NSW. The photo above shows Jack from Your Story (on the right) with staff from Legal Aid NSW.

A range of assistance was on offer – including support with problems relating to housing, legal and financial matters, drugs and alcohol, employment and healthcare.

Find out more about the Hunter Homeless Connect organisation.

Legal education about disability rights

We recently took part in a workshop for the Vietnamese disability community in western Sydney.

With the assistance of interpreters, we gave a presentation in conjunction with Shanna from the NDIS team at Legal Aid NSW.

We spoke about legal problems that people can encounter and the support services that can assist them.

The audience included community members and staff from community organisations including those providing aged care support. We were pleased to learn more about the issues that are important to them.

Upcoming events

We will be at the Disability Pride Fest in Sydney this month. The event is at the Ashfield Civic Centre Forecourt on September 16 from 11 AM to 2 PM.

This festival includes stalls, speakers, singers, dancers and panel discussions. The festival is in its third year and the theme for 2023 is Solidarity not charityView the event details here.