Jody was stuck in a cycle of offending and being sent back to jail straight after getting out, until one meeting changed the trajectory of her life.
- Legal Aid has launched a new service for people with disabilities
- The initiative will help people navigate the legal system
- It will also connect people to a network of support services
Her father died when she was just a child, and her mother developed an alcohol addiction.
Jody, managing a difficult household, turned to a life of drugs and crime.
"No one was really understanding why I was doing the things, the bad things that I was doing," she said.
A turning point
Her behaviour was something Jody herself didn't completely understand until 2022, when her Legal Aid lawyer asked her to get assessed for an intellectual disability.
The diagnosis changed everything for Jody.
"I started thinking in my head, 'Oh, is that the reason why?' Now I need to get help to try get me back on my feet," she said.
Jody, who has since received significant support to help her live with her disability, has managed to stave off drugs, and is in the process of taking on a new job.
"I just see so much future in my life at the moment."
New legal service
Legal Aid WA has launched a new service – Disability Legal WA – to try to help give similar opportunities to other people living with disability.
"The reality is that a lot of people who live with disability – not all, but still many – face significant disadvantage," managing solicitor Helen Loreck said.
"What we find is that a lot of people living with disabilities often have a number of different intertwined legal issues, and also social issues."
Disability Legal WA will act as a single point of contact for people with disability, while providing access to a network of other support services.
The Disability Royal Commission last year shone a spotlight on a lack of processes for identifying disability and cognitive impairments in custody.
"There's an over-representation of people in the criminal justice system living with disabilities," Ms Loreck said.
The royal commission also heard from people living under state care, and highlighted a theme of people feeling "trapped" in the system, and having little say in their own affairs.
"Often people struggling with disabilities need more time, space and support to be meaningfully involved," Ms Loreck said.
"That's what we're hoping to do so that they don't find themselves in the peripheries of their own legal issues."
Making their own decisions
Substitute decision making – where decisions are made on behalf of someone – is commonly used in Australia when managing the lives of people deemed incapable of making their own.
The Law Reform Commission has previously made recommendations to shift to supported decision making, which provides support to help people with disability make their own decisions.
Ms Loreck says Disability Legal WA will help shift the dial in involving people with disability in decisions, which will impact their lives.
"We're learning a lot more about people with disability and their capabilities," she said.
"Particularly in areas of intellectual disability and cognitive disability … having a better understanding of how to engage those people in the process themselves, and make sure their voice is truly heard."