Brain Injury Awareness Week Launch

Speech for Brain Injury Awareness Week Launch
August 15, 2016

Hello everyone, I’m Kelly Vincent, and I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the land of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide plains.

Thanks for inviting me to say a few words to launch Brain Injury Awareness Week today.  I’ll begin by talking a little about advocacy, and I know that you have a workshop on this important topic coming up this week.  Then I want to talk a bit about the place of rehabilitation services in our community.

Advocacy is to me a form of literacy, and it’s something that matters a great deal in my work with my constituents.  Having some knowledge around what to do when things are not right, “complaint literacy” if you like, is really important and not something that everyone knows how to go about.  In my case, I had an excellent role model, in the form of my mum, Colleen.  The skills she demonstrated every time something was not right, are pretty much the advocacy skills I practice daily through my work with Dignity for Disability.

Every day, as a member of parliament, I am contacted by people in crisis – often due in part to the disproportionate chunk of their lives people with disabilities spend battling bureaucracy just to gain fair access to the world.  My primary goal is to make myself redundant and this goal will be reached when having a disability in South Australia no longer constitutes a full-time job.  In every sense, I exist in my current position as a member of parliament to ensure that we get the paradigm shift within government which results in a deep understanding of what it does and does not mean to live with a disability, it’s about breaking down those attitudinal barriers.

When it comes to the health dollar, Dignity for Disability has been concerned about many aspects of the Transforming Health proposal since it was first announced.  South Australians were given little time to discuss, as a community, these drastic, sweeping changes to one of the most essential – if not the most essential service government provides to us – our health system.

Of course, all South Australians want an efficient health care system, but to create this the government needed to first develop a healthy relationship with genuine consultation. What they are attempting to do with Transforming Health is to transpose a UK system and expect it to work in SA.  The Transforming Health policy direction of the government will have a big impact on the delivery of rehabilitation services, especially the shift from Hampstead to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital site.  What we don’t want, is to have a new rehabilitation centre that does not deliver the facilities and services the current one does.  Because just as individuals do when they are undergoing rehab, as a state we have to move forwards, not backwards.

What so many of you here today have done is to persevere, sometimes against impossible odds, to get through the initial period of injury to the rehabilitation stage and the positive stories of sticking with rehab programs even though it is very tough at the time, gives other people hope for their own situation.

I think it’s clear, as with so many serious injuries, that the doctors don’t always get it right, and that there are many of us who make far more progress than we are ever expected to.

Neural plasticity – the brain’s ability to ‘rewire’ itself to some extent and to also begin using other parts of the brain to bypass the damaged area, is an incredible process.

We know that the ability of the brain to recover from injury is strongly linked to rehabilitation, and that’s why it is so important that we fund these services.

Brain injury manifests in so many different ways, and rehabilitation programs need to be flexible enough to meet the needs of individual clients.  We live in increasingly exciting times when it comes to the medical breakthroughs, scientific research and the use of technology in all aspects of our lives.  Changes such as virtual reality testing to measure brain function are being used now, as are assistance robots, and some of these innovations have the potential to change lives.

People sometimes say cruel and hurtful things about us, all too easily forgetting that tomorrow, in a split second, they themselves or someone they love could easily become members of the “disability club” possibly becoming dependent on others for their showers and personal care for the rest of their life.  That’s the reality of it, and of course it makes me angry that such attitudes still exist.

Dignity for Disability wants to see a community that can more than cope with differences – I want our system to offer the type of positive and re-assuring attitudinal support that values everyone for the role they play.  I don’t want anyone to feel that they can’t get the understanding they need when they are involved in accessing services, and I feel we have some way to go on that front.

So, today I have shared some thoughts about advocacy, transforming health, rehabilitation services and the power of perseverance.

So, thank you once again, for inviting me along today.  It is my pleasure to be here with you. Finally, we are all in this together, and it is my hope that this year’s Brain Injury Awareness week will allow you some great opportunities to share your stories and network, and that through raising awareness, in the media and the broader community, that the lives of all with brain injury will be supported and enhanced.