PDA proudly welcomes our new SA Associate Director, Krystal Matthews, to the team.

Krystal is a wearer of many hats and her ability shines through; but none are more important to her than setting a strong example for her family and advocating for others who are margalised and largely underestimated by mainstream society.

The 36 year old has worked for South Australia’s peak government social housing provider for over 10 years. This firmly places her in a position to help support people experiencing complex issues. In addition, she has developed programs to support and make service improvement to large-scale psychosocial community issues such as homelessness and Family and Domestic Violence.

Krystal was born with Cerebral Palsy and is a wheelchair user.  Overcoming challenges and preconceived notations of what she was considered (by society) to be capable of, drove her determination to be respected for what she can do, rather than what people think she can’t, or shouldn’t do.  

Krystal has 2 beautiful daughters, teaching people about equality, inclusion, and the beauty of diversity in society was intensified with motherhood. She is currently raising an energetic 2 year old toddler whilst in a wheelchair, which she reports as being both challenging and magical. Krystal enjoys spending time with family and friends, drinking a glass of wine and is a 90’s music tragic. 

Krystal is determined to ensure the lived experience of people with a disability shapes the way services are created and delivered in the future. She is also passionate about education awareness and safeguarding the rights of people with a disability in future policy development and negotiations. Krystal wants all people with a disability to feel safe, confident and capable of achieving their goals. Krystal hopes that her professional experience in advocacy and development, combined with her lived experience and determination to make a difference, will help further positive changes for people living with disability. 

Please join us in welcoming Krystal to PDA’s team.

The Importance of Associating Reasonable Adjustments with Equitable Outcomes.

Written by Tim Harte – PDA’s VIC Director

For people with disabilities, reasonable adjustments are a common challenge to negotiate.  Reasonable adjustments can include modifications to the environment or conditions of any area of public life, such as work, study, or provision of a service (e.g., a local library), that allow people with disabilities to work safely and productively or to access that service. In an educational setting, reasonable adjustments can include extra time for assessment tasks, assistance in hands-on learning to complete physical aspects of learning tasks (e.g., shifting a microscope into position on a desk), or the provision of learning materials in an alternative format, such as large size font or other formats. 

During my time undertaking undergraduate study, I have found there is a lack of knowledge and understanding of reasonable adjustments by staff of tertiary education institutions and the Australian population. I have observed that physical reasonable adjustments are understood better, perhaps because the adjustment is more observably connected with the physical requirement e.g. if a physics assessment task requires a student to jump up and down with an accelerometer, the average person assumes and accepts that a student in a wheelchair will require an altered assessment task. From experience, reasonable adjustments required for non-physical disabilities or physical disabilities that are less well-known, obvious and observable, such as those occurring from complex medical conditions, are understood and accepted to a lesser extent, sometimes to the point of academic staff viewing the reasonable adjustments as an unfair advantage.

After conversing with fellow students and academic staff about the reasoning behind my own reasonable adjustments,there has remained a lack of understanding for the rationale of non-access related reasonable adjustments, such as extra time for assessment tasks. Extra time for assessment tasks can be seen as an access related reasonable adjustment e.g., a student cannot write as fast due to a disability so extra time is allotted to assessments, but the average student often runs out of time in assessment tasks, hence could claim they should have more time too. Fundamentally, I think it is the implementation of reasonable adjustments for equitable outcomes that are least understood and part of this is due to the lack of understanding of ‘equity’. 

Equality means people have equal rights and equal access to certain social goods and social services; equity, on the other hand, acknowledges that society is not a level playing field and each person is in, or born into, different circumstances,hence specific, advantageous resources/opportunities need to be allocated appropriately to attain equitable outcomes. The broader Australian populace needs to understand that, due to both disabling aspects of our physical environment (social model of disability) and unchangeable impacts our impairments have on our lives (radical model of disability),people with disabilities experience inequity every day of their lives. The average Australian does not realise that ‘a fair go’ is denied to people with disabilities. 

Education, via personal story telling, breaks down perceptions of difference and highlights similarities and shared experiences, thereby humanising people with disabilities in the eyes of non-disabled people. This facilitates understanding and empathy of the daily plight of people with disabilities – assisting the non-disabled population to ‘walk in our shoes’ and comprehend the lives and experiences of people with disabilities, as well as the requirement for reasonable adjustments to achieve some level of equity.  

On the Platform with Melanie Hawkes

Written by Christine Kerr – “Platform Stories” Editor

Have you heard about the fabulous online magazine Platform Stories?

The site is dedicated to empowering women with disabilities from around the world through authentic, positive and inspiring content that is frank and without sugar coating.

Through its stories, Christine Kerr as Editor explores “the trials and tribulations, love and laughter, travel and adventure, challenges and changes… all from our own unique perspectives.”

A wonderful article on PDA’s WA Associate Director, Melanie Hawkes has just been published and it’s well worth a read.

https://platformstories.com.au/2021/07/on-the-platform-with-melanie-hawkes/

The differing symptoms of COVID-19

Yesterday Dr Norman Swan (Producer and presenter of the Health Report) reported on new evidence from the UK about the most common symptoms of COVID-19. Don’t assume that just because you’re vaccinated, you won’t have any COVID symptoms if you come in contact with the virus. You may still be infectious and capable of spreading the germ.

Depending on your vaccination status, there are different symptoms that present.

Some could easily be mistaken for a common cold, so please don’t dismiss these as being nothing to worry about – particularly with so much of Australia currently affected by COVID outbreaks.

The 4 MOST COMMON PRESENTING SYMPTOMS for each of the groups are:

* Fully vaccinated: headache, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat;

* Partly vaccinated (one dose): headache, runny nose, sneezing, persistent cough; and

* Unvaccinated: headache, sore throat, runny nose, fever.

Some people might register all the symptoms, however many will only get one – most typically a headache.

Dr Swan’s take-home message is: “If you have any one of these symptoms, even in the slightest way, you’ve got to get tested.”

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/coronacast/how-did-it-all-go-so-bad-so-quickly/13421314?utm_content=INTRO&list_name=23CA1130-277A-4852-82D9-20D1BB5DD3DE&promote_channel=edmail&utm_campaign=coronavirus-report-smh&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term=2021-06-28&mbnr=MjI5NDQ4ODY&instance=2021-06-28-20-22-AEST&jobid=29315997&fbclid=IwAR3hMSW73nSiv4SRujDYtgOZqmqBhO8OrxdUQKFMIC76ahhj73hXUpSgoO0

Keep up to date with the current Australian COVID

As Australia moves to greater restrictions in our battle with COVID, it is important that we are aware of how this is affecting our local areas and the role we must play in keeping ourselves and others safe.

With health authorities concerned about the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant, please keep on top of updates in your state/territory:

NSW – https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/covid-19/Pages/latest-updates.aspx

VIC – https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/media-hub-coronavirus-disease-covid-19

SA – https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/conditions/infectious+diseases/covid-19/about+covid-19/latest+updates/latest+updates+on+covid-19

TAS – https://coronavirus.tas.gov.au

WA – https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/News

ACT – https://www.covid19.act.gov.au/updates

QLD – https://www.qld.gov.au/health/conditions/health-alerts/coronavirus-covid-19/current-status/urgent-covid-19-update

NT – https://coronavirus.nt.gov.au

Please follow advice from your local authority.

We’re all in this together.

Stay safe everyone.

Educating for Physical Disability and Health

Written by Sharon Boyce

My ongoing health journey and understanding disability and health is especially important in these covid times. Accessing the equipment necessary for diagnosis and treatment is essential and when you can not get onto the CAT Scan bed this is a major problem. We have to make it work. We have to ensure equipment is accessible and suits everybody. We also need to be educated about how we can adapt situations and support people with high level complex physical disability.

I thought I might share with you some of the snapshots and issues that arose and had to be explored over the past two years of my life and health journey. I also thought I could look at some of the specific problems that arose and some interesting solutions that I found existed. 

I should let you know that I am now back at home and easing back into work after spending many months in and out of hospital with septic shock of my kidney again. At the start of the crisis I thought I was going so well avoiding having to go to doctors and mostly self quarantining – until I was rushed to hospital in Toowoomba and experienced the Covid-19 environment first hand and from a disability perspective! The many Zoom and team sessions came together to help me in surviving many weeks in hospital, along with my family and carers helping in every area and watching everything that was done. 

There were some interesting discussions and outcomes that followed, with some massive gaps in disability care, attitude and understanding being raised. The doctors were good and some of the nurses tried very hard to understand disability, but even they really were learning as we went along. There needs to be so much more education available to those in the medical sector around all areas of disability and life issues such as the need for space, Disability-considered equipment, attitudes and perception. There seemed to exist a very real lack of consideration and workability of hospital layout in terms of illness, physical disability. There was no room for my equipment and equipment (such as hoists, slings and a shower chair) that made my life work were just seen as inconveniences and something that took up valuable space. 

Assumptions were made about my ability to make choices, despite my cognitive abilities and very complex disability needs requiring a lot of flexibility. My family and carers were sometimes asked inappropriate questions about my choices and why I needed certain equipment or certain medications. I was highly allergic to one such medicine and it was only because of a carer and my own surveillance of the process that it was stopped immediately and no major issues resulted. There was no knowledge about using equipment or even accessing CAT scans or X-Ray equipment that worked around my needs or condition. Even medical choices I made were questioned because attitudes of some staff were condescending and misinformed about physical disability. There also seemed to be an attitude amongst staff that because I was so close to death, they should just make every decision and I should not question it or how they did it. This did not work because they did not understand disability, instead simply making assumptions and conclusions around their limited understanding. As a result there were times that my care and recovery were placed in jeopardy. Issues of medication and very limited time frames for actual survival also compounded the situation. 

Once I began to improve I tried to engage staff and educate them around hoisting, stomas, showers, skin care and overall attitude. I believe disability awareness has to be built into all university training courses across all areas of health. Hospital was accommodating, in most cases but, if I didn’t know my rights, hadn’t planned ahead and didn’t have the a ability to communicate my needs, the stay would have been impossible. I am so lucky I came out of hospital before Toowoomba became a hotspot. I would not have been able to have my family support and care team readily available on site helping to make everything possible and my care safe and doable. 

As a person with high level complex disability and specific needs with care I thought I knew the policies and way things could be done to ensure best practice and great outcomes. What I saw was huge gaps in education, awareness and attitude at every level. I could not get on to the CAT scan bed with my hoist and two carers helping, as well as the Radiology staff. I only had a very small window of time to live so the process had to done as fast and carefully as possible. I was relying on my two carers to show them my documented plan and use my hoist and also to ensure I wasn’t rolled or moved in any way to damage my neck and spinal cord.  Surrounded by wardies and the X ray staff my carers literally had to frequently remind them of my unstable spine issue so they wouldn’t roll me. The hoist wouldn’t fit under the cat scan bed, even though it was a new one, so they really didn’t know what to do. Vital minutes were ticking away. 

They then remembered they had a new piece of equipment – a hover mat that they could use. I could have CAT Scan and they could be done easily and safely. This took the pressure off the Radiology team and my often very short health requirements. If I could not have the scan we could not progress to the next stage of medical help. This piece of equipment is lifechanging for people who cannot transfer any other way onto a CAT scan bed or a X-Ray bed. It literally is like a hover craft that inflates from your bed and moves you across to the other space. It takes about five minutes in total and you are secured and safe. The only requirement is that the staff at the center know that it exists, first of all, and how to use it speedily and safely. I was so lucky that this was purchased by the hospital and that there were some staff who knew it existed. There was a team who worked together with my complex physical disability and high level sepsis that actually inflated the hover mat and moved me across to the CAT scan to actually perform the scan in enough time to ensure the next stage of medical treatment could continue. This piece of equipment is a life saver and we need to advertise the fact it should be available in every hospital. 

This was the first of many issues with equipment access and space. I only know that I would not be here if it wasn’t for some doctors and nurses who knew about disability equipment and support and also how to communicate and understand a person with high level disability and high level sepsis. It also needs to be said that without my carers and family helping with my advocacy and care this supportive situation would not have been possible. I might not want to say this and I believe I am very strong in this area, but when you are at your weakest you need plans and support to ensure best outcomes for recovery and survival. You also need equipment that enables you to get the required diagnosis and ensure that your situation is supported and your other areas of health are not damaged in any way. 

The new hover mat if a essential piece of equipment that makes the other essential areas of health such as cat scan, MRIs and X-Ray beds work for individuals who in the past could not access this safely and effectively. These type of innovation in the health sphere need to be celebrated and the information shared across all of our disability communities. There is constant research and equipment being developed and we need to push for more of this and also share our good news stories about how things work and when they don’t we need to question how we can have a solution created. 

To see how the hover mat works go to PDA’s YouTube channel by clicking on the link at the bottom of this blog. Don’t forget to subscribe to PDA’s channel whilst you’re there.

I have now recovered and am currently back at home and hoping that I stay healthy and can keep up my current workload. I am enjoying working with the Independent Advisory Council and my many other disability groups I work with. I never believed I would be actually givinglectures and zoom sessions about a first hand experience of life with disability in the covid-19 environment. (Some of them were very first hand, still being in hospital.)

It is so important to create positive change across health and especially for people with disability. There are many attitudes that need to be changed and also many disability issues to be explored and educated about. We need to continue to ask how we can make this health area more inclusive and more understood. We all have certain needs and things that impacts in this space because of our disability.  We need to break down barrier and create conversations so when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable the people who are tasked with our health recovery understand what they are dealing with and how they can help make life better for both sides. There was some very scary moments and without my support my recovery wouldn’t have been as smooth as it was able to be. 

Grief and disability

Written by Tammy Milne – PDA’s TAS Associate Director

Phil and I met at the Footy Club in 1987 and his pick up line was a classic “I’d like to get you alone”. From this I deduced that with a line this lame he must be okay! He was 33 and I was 23 years old.

We were together for 33 years until his death on the 17th May this year, 2021.  He was 66.

What makes our story different from other love stories and stories of loss and  grief?

 I am a woman with a physical disability.

Although this shouldn’t make a significant difference to our relationship or any relationship of love and loss it does.

Here is why.

As other people with disability will know the pressure of society, discrimination and the constant barriers put in the path both physically and psychologically take a huge toll on people with disabilities on a day-to-day basis and the cumulative effects can be debilitating resulting in lack of confidence and self belief. 40% of PWD live with depression while those without disability are only 8%.

Adults with disability are more likely (32%) to experience high or very high levels of psychological distress than adults without disability (8.0%). This is particularly true for adults with severe or profound disability (40%) (ABS 2019c)

So having a partner who supports your every endeavour with steadfast dedication and solidarity really helps to negotiate this world and support a partner to be a the best they can be. 

That constant reinforcement that you are ‘good enough’, you are, ‘clever’, you are ‘normal’ should be bottled and available to everyone. The quiet love that’s stands on your sideline and cheers for you regardless of the situation.  When this is gone, the memories and years of support are still there and the therapeutic work of their support is still there but they, the person, are not and the loss is huge. It’s like your team of two has been cut to one and a whole side of yourself has been taken away.

I’m not talking nasty co-dependency. I’m talking about the best of what kindness, love and genuine dedication to each other gives to a relationship.

So that’s the loss of the emotional support. So then add the loss of the physical support. The day-to-day jobs that as a partnership with one person disabled the other takes on; like checking the mail, like getting the newspaper from the driveway, like the million other little things they do that makes your life seamless. Even with NDIS support and support workers those jobs that seems to have been absorbed by the other as a matter of osmosis can not be replicated.

Even the simple fact of safety, of having that extra person in the house that protects you when a medical emergency occurs. If you fall or there’s a medical situation they can phone for outside help. The unpaid care that person has undertaken over the years of your relationship can never be estimated in monetary terms, but would potentially run into millions of dollars.

Our love was deep, dedicated and a bond of strength. We were equals. The gap left by this loss and the subsequent grief cannot be quantified as any more than an ABLEd relationship (a relationship where both parties are not disabled), but there is qualitative evidence in the need for additional physical supports and time will only tell if the loss of the emotional support will result in other supports being needed.

In conclusion a disabled/abled relationship provides both parties with a rich and full life. It cannot be argued that the relationship is not equal, but the loss, grief and emotional and physical support does impact and does result in a more raw loss for the disabled partner left behind and a unique perspective on grief and loss.

[From PDA: Dear Tammy. Thank you for sharing this tribute to Phil, your celebration of a relationship built on true love and your heartfelt and incredibly moving exploration of grief. On behalf of the PDA Family we send you our sincere condolences, love and support. RIP Phil. 💔]

Introducing Paul Williamson – PDA’s new ACT Associate Director

Paul Williamson has joined Physical Disability Australia as an Associate Director for the A.C.T..  He has a strong interest in furthering the employment opportunities for people with disability, having experienced some of the challenges firsthand – going from ‘fit and healthy’ to living with disability in a relatively short period.

He has over 20 years of experience working in senior positions in the Commonwealth Public Sector across several Department’s including Finance; Industrial Relations; Employment; and Attorney-General’s.  He has worked on the development of key Commonwealth legislation, provided policy advice to Senior Officials, and administered multi-million-dollar grant programs.

In his late twenties, Paul was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis and while the disease is controlled by medication it has led to multiple joint replacements.  Paul also required brain surgery in his 30’s to correct anarteriovenous malformation (AVM) in the brain.

Paul holds a Masters Degree from the University of New South Wales and is an Honorary Associate in the Centre for Disability Research and Policy at The University of Sydney.

Welcome to PDA’s Board Paul. We look forward to utilising your vast experience and commitment to making a positive difference for Australia’s disability community.