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Canberra Community Law and Autism Spectrum Australia break new ground with launch of accessible legal social scripts

6 December 2021
Emma Gallagher, Autism Spectrum Australia consultant

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In an Australian first, Canberra Community Law has developed a series of social scripts, in partnership with Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), to help clients access legal services and engage with certain legal processes.

Social scripts are person-centred narratives used to introduce new events, interactions and what to expect. They use a combination of simple text and images to explain concepts and foreshadow emotions and what to expect.

The scripts that have launched cover the following topics:

  • My first contact with a legal service (CCL specific + template version for other services)
  • Visiting CCL (CCL specific, DDL specific + template versions for other services)
  • First meeting with my lawyer (CCL specific, DDL specific + template versions for other services)
  • Next meeting with my lawyer (CCL specific, DDL specific + template versions for other services)
  • Going to an ACAT hearing
  • Going to conciliation at the ACT Human Rights Commission

They are designed primarily for Autistic people however, anyone who experiences anxiety which impairs their cognitive clarity, recall and memory, communication, or people who have low literacy levels may benefit.

"We believe this is the first project of its kind in the justice space in Australia. We are excited to work in partnership with Autism Spectrum Australia and with support from the ACT Office for Disability to make our legal services accessible to the autistic community and people with disability more broadly.”

Social Scripts (also known as Visual Stories) are a valuable resource for preparing Autistic people and those with other hidden disabilities for what to expect and what they are expected to do. This is important in unfamiliar environments (such as a lawyer’s office) or when working through new and unfamiliar processes.

Navigating the legal system, understanding your rights and being able to work through complex legal processes can be challenging at the best of times, and Autistic people can find these situations very overwhelming.

“It is important that we shape the justice system around people, not force people into navigating the justice system. The ACT Government is committed to doing justice differently, making it more accessible for people, especially people with disability, in recognition of the barriers that people with disability have and their overrepresentation in the justice system.”

The social scripts are designed to break down the complex information and processes into simple, easy to understand English with visual supports, ensuring vital information is provided to a client beforehand, allowing them time to process new information and prepare themselves for the next step.

Canberra Community Law has been dedicated to truly understanding the experience of Autistic people interacting with the legal system. Their commitment to genuine inclusion has resulted in the development of a resource which will benefit not only the autistic community but many other disadvantaged communities as well.

“A truly inclusive Canberra means providing equal opportunities for all people to engage and participate across the whole spectrum of our community. This project is a fantastic example of genuine community collaboration between Canberra Community Law, Autism Spectrum Australia and people with autism to make our justice support services more accessible."

The social scripts, including templates for other legal and justice organisations to adapt, are available on the Canberra Community Law website: www.canberracommunitylaw.org.au/social-scripts.

This project has been funded through the ACT Office for Disability.

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