Parliament: Parliamentary Initiatives

Determined2 – Immersion Therapy Program

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I move:

That this council notes the work of Peter Wilson and the Determined2 team and—

  1. Acknowledges the benefits of the Immersion Therapy Program developed and delivered in South Australia; and
  2. Congratulates Peter Wilson on being the joint winner of the Excellence in Inclusive Service Delivery Award at the 10th National Disability Awards.

I am very happy to make a few brief remarks in this place noting the achievements of the Determined2 Immersion Therapy Program and, in particular, its founder, Mr Peter Wilson, in light of the recent Excellence in Inclusive Service Delivery Award at the National Disability Awards in Canberra.

I first met Pete Wilson earlier this year, when he came to me to explain the immersion therapy program that he had started with the support of just a few people and to share with me the story of how this program came about, and what it is achieving, and to see if there is anything that we in the Dignity for Disability party may be able to do to support the further development and growth of that program.

I may be a cynic at times, and I am sure at the moment that minister Hunter would say ‘often’; however, I can genuinely say that I liked Pete Wilson immediately. His dedication to this cause, his dedication to his personal recovery and his dedication to making a positive contribution to our community were immediately evident, and I immediately respected him because of that. Pete Wilson sustained quite serious injuries in 2007 in a motorcycle accident which left him fighting for life. He has since been left, I understand, with 47 per cent total body impairment.

After a long recovery period, he became involved in participating in recreational scuba diving as part of his recovery and found it extremely beneficial. From that personal experience, he wanted to think about what he could do to help other people in similar situations, who had disabilities that either were congenital or perhaps they had, like him, sustained an injury and experienced some level of disability as a result.

Very quickly, he became aware that there was quite a substantial gap or difference in the support that is available for people, depending on how their disability is acquired. In other words, he felt that he had a far greater level of support, particularly financial support, available to him because his injury was sustained in the context of the workplace, so he received a compensation package because of that. In his own words, he was ’embarrassed’ by this, but I do not think he needed to be. Pete says that he felt embarrassed that he got something different that somebody with a non-compensable disability or injury would not necessarily get.

So, he started to think about what he could do with the money he received that would not only help him with his recovery, of course, but also put something positive back into the community, and that is when he came up with the immersion therapy program. Essentially, the immersion therapy program is a program where people with disabilities or injuries use scuba equipment in a controlled environment, namely, in the North Adelaide Aquatic Centre.

It is important to say that it is not a diving program—they do not teach diving—and also having clearance to participate in the immersion therapy program does not automatically equate to medical clearance to go diving in open water. That is another hurdle which I am yet to overcome. However, you are able to use the scuba equipment in the pools, so you can swim under the water and experience the positive physical sensations and the use of muscle related to that as well as the mental health and relaxation effects that come with it.

In fact, I would even go as far as to argue that perhaps even the biggest part of the immersion therapy program in terms of its positive outcomes is not the physical therapy aspect but the positive mental health, particularly for those injured workers who might be on WorkCover packages or return-to-work packages who may be experiencing isolation, fear, anxiety, depression and other issues related to their change in circumstances.

We now have a situation where there is a program where people with disabilities and injuries are now teaching people with the same experiences how to get back to swimming, how to use the equipment. That shared experience is very valuable in terms of people’s recovery, and there certainly have been some massive gains in people’s recovery in the program since it was established. Among those is the fact that in the immersion therapy program is Angus, and Angus does not like to be talked about very much, but I know him personally, so I hope he will not mind.

Angus is believed to be the first person in the world diagnosed with epilepsy to have been given any level of clearance to use scuba equipment—because obviously the pressure of being underwater can trigger, apparently, (I am not a doctor) an epileptic response—so that in itself is a massive achievement, and he is going from strength to strength in this program.

I also caught up with Peter, coincidentally, the other day, and he told me that a young man had come in who had acquired a brain injury some years ago—I think maybe even in the order of 10 or so years ago—and who had quite a high level of physical disability as a result. Pete said, ‘Okay, let’s put you into the water and see what you can do.’ I was not there to witness this event, but I have no reason to believe that it is not true, apparently this young man sat in the water in the water wheelchair for a few moments and Pete said he could see the cogs turning over in this young man’s brain as he sat there in the water.

Lo and behold, this young man, as the story goes, (again, I was not there) got up and for the first time in 10 years, perhaps even more, started walking, taking a few steps in the pool. That is an incredible achievement and goes to show the amazing adaptability of the human brain in the right circumstances and with a supportive environment. I would like to qualify those comments by saying that the immersion therapy program is certainly not a program rooted in what some people might call ‘cure culture’.

They are not out to cure people of their disability or to do any type of snake-oil merchant activity, but they simply want to enable people to do the best they can with their bodies and experience fun therapy-like experiences in a less therapeutic environment. I think that is more conducive to positive outcomes because you are not so focused on getting particular outcomes, ‘I must walk, I must swim, I must do whatever it is.’ You are there to have fun and you are there to enjoy yourself and the rest of it just comes along

After meeting Pete that day at Parliament House, he invited me to come along and see the program in action. I went there accompanied by the Lord Mayor, who had also met with Pete and was keen to see how the program operated, so we went down together and checked out the program. Of course, the next step was to get me in the water. It did not happen that day; it happened a couple of weeks later. As someone who is not particularly fond of physical activity (I am much more of a bookworm), not particularly fond of the elements and not readily able to float in the water, scuba was of course a completely natural activity and one that did not cause me any level of anxiety at all!

The truth is that for the first few minutes after getting into the water, Peter came in with me and said, ‘Because it’s your first session, I will help you out’. I got in the water and was sitting there ready to get out of the lifter into the water and I said to him, ‘Pete, there’s one thing I forgot to tell you.’ He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘You know how cerebral palsy affects the brain and the sense of balance and so on?’ He said yes, and I said, ‘Well, I can’t really float.’ So, for a few minutes I sat there, knuckles white and literally clinging to the edge of the pool and saying, ‘I can’t let go. I can’t do it. I can’t do it.’

Poor Pete had to sit there in the water trying to coax me away from the edge of the pool while Tim Maloney—a former Paralympian basketballer and, I think, a gold medallist, but certainly medallist in Paralympic basketball, with biceps the size of my head, so again I was not feeling at all intimidated—sat there and held my hand. This was the first time I had ever met Tim, and again this is a great example of the camaraderie that exists in this program. The first time he ever met me he was sitting at the edge of the pool but got out of his wheelchair so that he could reach down to me. He took me by the hand and said, ‘I won’t let go until you’re ready.’

Needless to say, long story short, in the context of that one session, my very first session, I was determined and I went from being unable to let go of the side of the pool, and refusing to swim at all, to earning the name ‘superfish’, which I was rather pleased with, although I do not know that I have quite earnt it yet. Having watched the videos of myself swimming, I am not sure that ‘superfish’ is entirely suitable, but I have come to appreciate and love the name very much. Certainly, this is a great—

The Hon. T.J. Stephens: The honourable ‘superfish’.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: The honourable ‘superfish’. I see that I have been promoted again. The Hon. Mr Stephens interjects, very unparliamentarily, ‘The honourable superfish’. Thank you, good sir. You will have to come and watch before I think you can judge whether I am really worthy of that name.

This is a great example of what we can do when we recognise the social model of disability which, for anyone who has forgotten from the hundreds of times I have mentioned it in this place, teaches that the impairment or the physical or sensory, etc., difference that exists in a person’s body is not in and of itself the problem. The problem is other barriers that we put up around that person as a result of that difference.

In the context of the Immersion Therapy Program, a lot of the attitudes they are tackling are barriers not so much of the physical environment but of where people may have been told—for months, weeks or even years—that swimming, physical activity, social interaction is no longer, or will never be, an option for them. So this is a great program for overcoming those barriers.

It is also important because it has provided an employment opportunity to the team now running Determined2, both volunteers and paid staff, but particularly Pete as founder. As I have said, I think that to date he has put over $70,000 of his own compensation fund money into this program because he believes in it, and he is now committed to doing this. That is to be commended, particularly in a state where we are facing a lot of troubles, to say the least, in regard to employment. Anything that is innovative, that looks at how we can do things differently and find new roles for ourselves in a changing economy, should be welcomed.

I would particularly like to acknowledge Pete but also all the team at Determined2. I will not name all of them, but to name just a few there is, of course, Tim and Richie. All of them have been very helpful and kind to me personally, but they are also making a huge difference in the lives of many people and they should be very proud of themselves. I know that I am proud of them, and I think everyone in this chamber should be. I will probably say more in summing up, but for now I acknowledge and thank all the Determined2 team for how far they have come in such a short time.

It is important to acknowledge that the beginning of what has become the Determined2 program was only in October last year. It has literally gone from an idea that was written—and I hope people do not mind me saying this—on a couple of scrap pieces of paper, a couple of serviettes, to now being a fully funded program that is supported by Dr David Wilkinson, Director of Hyperbaric Medicine at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, who has developed a specific medical assessment for the controlled scuba experience.

Again, from being one person with an idea, to finding a medical practitioner who will give someone clearance for something that many other practitioners simply would not bother to find an innovative way to provide, to also finding support staff and the volunteers to provide this program, and to have done it in such a short space of time, is an amazing achievement. Given that this is how far Determined2 has come from October 2015, just over a year ago, I am very excited to see what lies ahead.

This award is, hopefully, just the beginning of the recognition this program deserves. I know the program does not always get the recognition and support it warrants, and Pete feels some degree frustration about that—although I will not go into that on the record for the time being—but it is certainly going from strength to strength. In fact, just the other week I received an email informing all those involved in Determined2 that they have, as I understand it, sustained ongoing funding through Disability Recreation and Sports SA, another great organisation providing sporting and recreation activities to people with disabilities.

Through a funding partnership with them, I understand that they are now in a position to no longer need to charge any of their clients, which is fantastic, because to date, as I understand it, their basic ruling has been that they will charge those who have compensable injuries, such as those on return–to-work packages, but not those whose injuries are either congenital or non-compensable due to the way that they were sustained, i.e. not in a workforce context.

I received an email informing me that Disability Rec and Sports are pleased to announce that thanks to the support of the Office for Recreation and Sport SA, they are able to offer Determined2 immersion therapy for no out-of-pocket expenses for our members. The immersion therapy program is an approved service to the following funders for return to work: Employers Mutual, Gallagher Bassett, the Lifetime Support Authority and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This funding from the Office for Recreation and Sport SA now means that people do not have to access these streams of funding in order to access the program for no cost as well.

Determined2 really is going from strength to strength in finding new and innovative ways to make their program more financially, as well as physically, accessible to everyone in our community, and should be congratulated for that. I certainly put on the record, in addition to my thanks to Determined2, my thanks to Disability Rec and Sports and the Office for Recreation and Sport South Australia.

I am very excited to see where this program goes next. I hope that perhaps in October next year I will be able to report even more progress, but for the time being I simply want to acknowledge how far this program has come, thank everyone involved and hope that it gets the support of the chamber. I look forward to seeing members at the pool and hopefully have you all join us in the water. I should, before I close off, though, say onto the record that when I went for my first visit to the Lord Mayor, he did give an undertaking that he would be getting into the pool, and I have yet to see that happen.

The Hon. S.G. Wade: Another broken promise.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: The Hon. Mr Wade interjects, ‘Another broken promise’. I am not sure what he was alluding to there, but I will leave that be. Certainly, I know that the Lord Mayor, like all of us, with a great sense of fun, is an avid reader of Hansard, and so I would certainly like to put out a public reminder to him that he has, I think, a civic duty to join me at my next session, which will be this coming Monday morning at 11am. Mr Lord Mayor, be warned. Any other member who wants to come and join us and see this amazing program in operation, I am sure would be welcome to do so. They can certainly start by lending their support to this motion. I commend it to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.J. Stephens.