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Australians with disability urged to come forward for free legal advice about sharing stories of mistreatment

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  • New data from legal service Your Story Disability Legal Support shows demand for its free information and legal services has nearly doubled in two years.
  • People with disability and their supporters are being encouraged to come forward for legal advice now it’s safer to share confidential information with the Disability Royal Commission. Recent changes to the Royal Commissions Act 1902 make it possible for stories of harm or other mistreatment to remain confidential beyond the life of the inquiry.
  • The Disability Royal Commission is investigating the mistreatment of people with disability in all contexts and settings, with a final report due by 29 September 2023.

New data from Your Story Disability Legal Support shows demand for its free information and legal services has nearly doubled in two years.

Your Story Disability Legal Support (Your Story) is a national service providing free, independent information and legal advice about taking part in the Disability Royal Commission, which is investigating the mistreatment of people with disability in Australia.

In 2020-21, Your Story’s Infoline received 2958 calls, emails and website inquiries, compared to 1502 the previous financial year.

The number of legal services Your Story lawyers provided more than doubled, increasing 124 percent from 1420 in 2019-20 to 3189 in 2020-21.

Your Story is encouraging more people to come forward for free legal advice.

“Across the board, we’re seeing more people accessing our free legal support to take part in the Disability Royal Commission,” said Susannah O’Reilly, Director of Your Story.

“We’re encouraging more people to come forward,” continued O’Reilly, “particularly those who are more likely to experience mistreatment, such as people with disability from the LGBTIQA+, culturally and linguistically diverse, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and those living in group homes, prisons, and youth or immigration detention centres.

“With just under two years to go until the Royal Commission delivers its final report, and new privacy protections for participants, there’s never been a better time to speak to one of our lawyers about sharing your story.” 

Since launching in September 2019, Your Story has supported hundreds of people, including many people with disability, their family members and carers, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Your Story’s National Coordinator Jake Lewis said the Disability Royal Commission wants to hear stories from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, with a recent public hearing examining the experiences of First Nations children with disability in out-of-home care.

“Your Story is delivered in partnership with community-controlled Aboriginal legal services across Australia,” said Lewis. “If you identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, we can support you share your story.

“Sharing your story will ultimately help the government understand your experiences so they can make things better for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members with disability.”

Sifa Mtango, Senior Solicitor at Your Story, explained why it’s a good idea to get legal advice before sharing a story with the Disability Royal Commission.

“Our lawyers can support you to protect your rights and share your story,” she said.

“We can also explain what the new privacy protections mean for you or the person you support.”

Recent changes to the Royal Commissions Act 1902 make it possible for stories of harm or other mistreatment to remain confidential beyond the life of the inquiry.

Previously, these stories had the potential to be accessed through Freedom of Information requests when the Royal Commission ended in September 2023.

Mtango said this had been a concern for many of Your Story’s clients.

“Now people with disability and their supporters can safely and confidently share sensitive stories knowing they will be protected beyond the life of the Royal Commission,” she said.

People with disability often experience a range of legal and social issues.

In addition to providing free information and legal advice, Your Story can connect clients with additional supports, including free counselling and help with other legal matters they may be dealing with.

O’Reilly said Your Story also has a social worker on the team who can support clients through the process of sharing their story.

“What we’ve heard from our clients and through the Royal Commission is that many people with disability in Australia have experienced problems because of their disability, such as trouble with police, the NDIS, child protection and accessing the right services,” she said.

“We’ve also heard stories of hope and ideas and recommendations for change. 

“We want to get the message out there that whether you’re a person with disability or family member, friend, carer, or advocate, your story matters and Your Story Disability Legal Support can support you to share it.”

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