A Chat About Brain Injuries with Kyle

Hey everyone! Today’s blog post is a little different to the usual content that I post. I’m currently in my fourth and final year as an Occupational Therapy Student and part of one of my assignments is to do ‘One Small Action’. I thought a lot about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to promote change. I decided to raise awareness about brain injuries in young people and accessibility. I’m someone who loves going out with friends and this made me think about people like Kyle, who don’t get the same chance as I do.

Kyle is a 21-year-old from Brisbane who experienced a severe brain injury as a result of a car crash in January 2020. He was 18 at the time of the accident. He spent around thirteen months in the Princess Alexandra Hospital. He stayed in the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit (BIRU) for around eight months and an additional five months at the Jasmine Unit.

Kyle has come a long way since his injury and overcome countless challenges. When he first came into hospital, he was told he would never be able to eat solid food or get around without a power wheelchair. Now he’s enjoying weekly hamburgers, attending university and only using a walking stick. How did he make it here? He’s just as impressed as you will be.

Kyle (Left)

I was fortunate to sit down with Kyle and chat a bit about how his life has changed since his brain injury. Kyle brings to light a positive attitude towards his brain injury.

“It’s not about why you get knocked down, it’s about how you get back up”

Even though he has come a long way, he says it definitely wasn’t an easy one. He describes his hospital experience to be extremely challenging, especially since it was throughout the peak of COVID-19. Kyle spoke about the shock and frustration he felt when he woke up in hospital, “the weirdest f***ing thing”. As for COVID-19, it made having visitors in very, very difficult.

Kyle talks about how others’ perceptions of him have changed since he was able to to get around using a walking stick. He’s happy that it only looks like a broken leg to save funny looks from people. In saying that, when people ask what happened to his leg or arm he responds with:

“Oh, it’s much worse than that”

“It’s a long story”

Something we spoke a lot about is Kyle’s enthusiasm for a good party. Before his accident, he would go into town to hit all the best clubs in Brisbane with friends. Sure, some things have changed but his attitude towards parties hasn’t changed much. There are a few things that are holding him back from getting back out there. Although he’s out of his wheelchair and more recently without his AFO (moon boot), he is still considered a high falls risk. Couple that with the fact that most places have an unreasonable amount of stairs, means that he hasn’t been out since his accident. Sure, some places have railings on the stairs but it is often only on one side. Kyle’s left side is weak since the accident meaning he can either go up or down, not both. He shouldn’t have to rely on his friends to carry him up or down (even though they’re happy to).

There is an estimated 18% of Australia’s population (around 4.4 million people) who have a disability (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022). That’s a lot of people! Everyone has the right to accessibility (United Nations, 2006). This means not only to places you might think are necessary (e.g., work, school, transport) but also places where you go to have fun (e.g., clubs, restaurants, bars etc.). The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) says that you can’t discriminate against people with disabilities. Having places that aren’t accessible for people with disability is a form of discrimination. Unfortunately and frustratingly, established places can technically say it’s going to impose ‘unjustifiable hardship’. Meaning that, it’s too hard sorry we can’t do it.

Kyle’s attitude towards life can be understood through the advice he would give someone who is in a similar position to himself:

“Just keep pushing on mate”.

We as a society should also be pushing on. Pushing for more accessible venues and pushing for equal rights. There are so many great resources and organisations that advocate for disability accessibility. It’s honestly a bit overwhelming on the amount that’s out there. Here are some I would recommend:

The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations

https://www.afdo.org.au/

This is a Disabled People’s Organisation. It is made up of lots of different organisations. They are the national voice representing people with disability. They provide policy advice and representation to government and organisations on issues that impact the lives of people with disabilities.

Queensland Advocacy for Inclusion (QAI)

https://qai.org.au/

QAI is an independent advocacy for protection and advancement of people with disability. They advocate through campaigns and submissions at policy reform.

If you want to read a speech that changed my life by Dr Ben Gauntlett (The Disability Discrimination Commissioner): https://humanrights.gov.au/about/news/speeches/critical-task-changing-community-attitudes-towards-disability

This is a great video by Stella Young. She talks about how people with disabilities aren’t always visible. ‘For a lot of us, disabled people are not our teachers or doctors or manicurists’. They’re also not at the club having drinks with their mates. Lack of easy access to venues right now makes that really hard.

These resources are in no way exhaustive and I encourage you to please do some of your own research and stay informed on what’s happening in your world.

clara x 2022

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