Two Fridays ago, I had just enjoyed a uni student's modest brunch of a sausage roll and a flavoured milk at the Cake Gallery, and was sitting perched awkwardly (as is always the way I perch) on the side of the tree planter, pictured here in Windsor Mall. I had an appointment at noon to see a Miss Libby Hyett, a painter whose gallery is tucked in a comfy little shopspace in one shady flank of the Post Office Arcade.
I am quite convinced that Libby's totem animal is a bellbird, or perhaps a wallaby, and was contemplating this at 11:52am when I noticed the animated chatter of a pair of women who were sitting about a metre from me. One was a disability support worker, and the other was her client, a lady seated in her wheelchair and enjoying a coffee and cigarette with the kind of relish that makes one envious of the other's mindfulness superpowers.
I had already been turning over the Disability Support Pension in my mind and wondering who else might wish to speak to me. It must be one of those serendipitous moments that had Ruby sitting just behind me right in that moment. I asked her if she'd like to be a part of the project; if she'd like to be given a platform from which to express her views on anything at all, but particularly the DSP, the NDIS and/or the misconceptions she feels the community has regarding people with disabilities; specifically, in Ruby's case, ABI.
"Acquired Brain Injury" is a term that many of us throw about in universities and health, allied health or disability services. However, there's a chance you may not have heard it before. It means that the person has had an injury or other damage to the brain tissue. It means they weren't born with the damage to their brain that they now have. It doesn't necessarily have to be from an injury; ABI can also exist as a result of disease, infection or alcohol. Ruby also has injuries to her body which means she needs assistance with mobility.
I asked Ruby:
"What would you say to the rest of the community, if you had a platform from which to say anything you like?"
She said the following, pausing thoughtfully between each statement:
"I had a bad car accident as a sixteen year old. I can't do things like when I was young. The injury affects my mental health; I can suffer from depression when I can't get out.
The Disability Support Pension needs to be a lot more.
We struggle week to week on the DSP.
Life has improved since the rollout of the NDIS. I get out a lot more. My health is a lot better. I can get access to life outside home, and I can socialise.
I wish some people didn't judge others by the way they look. I wish people knew more about acquired brain injury."
"You were in the car accident at sixteen years old? How old are you now?"
*At Ruby's request, her name has been changed and no image of her has been taken.