Amee Grattan for Disability Law Queensland is pictures in a red dress wearing glasses and slightly smiling, set against a dark background.
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14 July 2021

Navigating the law when you or a family member has a disability.

Navigating the law is complex and can be even more difficult if you have a disability or care for someone with a disability.

Today we’re talking with Amee Grattan, a legal practitioner and director of Disability Law Queensland, an organisation that provides legal services for people with a disability and their families.

Amee does not approach her work the way many lawyers do. With her lived experience of being a mum of a child with special needs, she brings a client centred approach to law, reinforced by her strong sense of social justice and a passion for helping people. And she has loads of great information to share.

L! – What is Disability Law Queensland and what services do you offer to people with a disability and their families?

AG – DLQ is a not-for-profit legal service that supports people with a disability and their families. We are a specialist firm with the experience and understanding to work with families with complex legal issues. Our team has an intricate understanding of the law when it comes to disability.

We offer a range of legal services including wills and guardianship, trusts, human rights law and discrimination law.

L! – What is the most important thing you would like people to know about the law and disability?

AG – The importance of future planning. There is a lack of awareness of estate planning in the general population and a reluctance to deal with our mortality as well, so a lot of us put it off. It’s even more complex for people with children who will become adults who can’t care for themselves.

A wise person once said: “someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago”. That’s spot on when it comes to future planning. While it can initially seem confronting, spending time putting a plan in place now can bring a massive sense of relief and certainty.

Future planning cannot be done in a day or an instant. It changes, adapts and grows as an individual grows.

L! – What are some things that people can do to help prepare for the future?

AG – It may be about taking steps towards supported decision making by increasing a person’s capacity to make decisions for themselves. It may be about making a will. It covers your vision for a good life and who will help to continue to ensure that if a parent or family member is no longer able to provide care.

Note: For some great information about decision making and supporting a person with disability to increase their decision making capacity, check out our previous story, Planning for the future together – decision making.

It’s also about acknowledging the importance of having support networks. My predecessor maintained: “laws don’t protect people, people do.” I couldn’t agree more. Building and maintaining a network of people you can trust is critically important.

A lot of people say they feel lighter and have greater peace of mind after they’ve progressed their planning or made a will. That is the best feedback we can get, that we have made the process as easy as possible and they feel comfortable with plans they have in place.

L! – If someone believes they have been discriminated against because of a disability, what should they do?

AG – The first step is to get in touch with someone like DLQ and get advice. Not all discrimination is unlawful. It costs money to take discrimination to court so you need to decide if it is worth pursuing and a lawyer can help you make that decision.

Sometimes people just want some guidance. For example, we had a young client with intellectual impairment who had always banked with the same bank and the manager had known him since he was a child. But the bank manager changed and they wouldn’t let him access his funds. He came to see us. First, we worked out a way for him to access his funds, then went about ensuring it didn’t happen again by bringing it to the attention of the bank’s head office. Situations don’t always require litigation. A letter to an appropriate authority may be enough.

L! – What is an important area of the law that people with a disability or their families should familiarise themselves with?

AG – Decision making and capacity. Just because a person has a disability doesn’t mean they are not able to make decisions. There is a misconception that when a child with a disability turns 18, you must apply to a court (such as QCAT in Queensland) to get formal authority to make decisions on their behalf. This is not correct.

It is a fundamental human right to make decisions for yourself if you have capacity, which includes dignity of risk. There are many ways that family members can support, rather than substitute decision making.

L! – How does your approach differ from a regular lawyer?

AG – We understand that families might need to reschedule an appointment because of an unforeseen medical episode. We don’t look or sound like lawyers. We adjust our approach to our clients. For example, I had a client who has a young person with intellectual disability, I wore a colourful yellow dress with dinosaurs on it to be more relatable and less intimidating to them. We have appointments across the road at a nearby park if an office environment is not suitable for our clients.

Where to find out more.

Getting help in your state: Check out the Australian Human Rights Commission guide to Disability Legal Services for services in your state or territory.

There are loads of helpful resources on the Disability Law Queensland website.

Leap in! has also created a free ebook called Future planning: A guide for parents and carers which covers some of the key topics about future planning including decision making and living a good life.

Further reading

Future planning: Legal and financial considerations.

Caring for yourself when you care for someone with a disability.

Best of our free resources: Leap in! ebooks, guides and more.