From setting off on solo international trips to being afraid to catch a train to Melbourne, the effects of a traumatic injury were profound for Shepparton woman Janet Congues.

But after discovering the many facets of Travellers Aid, she says her world opened up again

In 2019 Janet suffered a life-changing injury after she was knocked from her bike by a car.

The car ran over her leg, leaving her with a crushed ankle and extensive damage to her lower leg. With a long road of surgeries and rehab ahead of her, Janet believed her days of independent and spontaneous travel were over.

“I used to be able to just jump in the car and go visit my sister in Geelong, just because I felt like it,” Janet says.

 

“I tried thinking about using the train to do a couple of things after my accident, but I just couldn’t. There’s the mental stuff as well as the physical stuff, and working out how to manage all that on my own was very overwhelming.”

When Janet needed to travel to Melbourne for a medical appointment, she asked Shepparton V/Line staff what services might support her first train trip since the accident. They told her about Travellers Aid’s connection service, which could pick her up from her train and give her a lift through the Southern Cross concourse.

Janet smiles at the camera while seated on a train. Outside the window is the Shepparton station platform.

As a woman with autism*, Janet gains comfort from having as much information as possible about events and situations. With the medical appointment at an unfamiliar hospital, and a lack of information about how to get there and how to find the surgeon’s rooms, her anxiety rocketed.

She shared her worries when she rang to book the Travellers Aid buggy service, and was offered a solution.

“The guy on the phone asked if I’d like someone to travel with me to the appointment, free of charge,” Janet says, recalling her introduction to Travellers Aid’s companion service.

 

“The volunteer they gave me was lovely. We got a taxi there, and she knew the hospital and helped me navigate, because I was really nervous. She was absolutely awesome.”

On the return trip to Southern Cross, Janet told her companion that she had time to fill before her train home but could not go far on her crutches. The volunteer told her about Travellers Aid’s mobility equipment hire.

“So I hired a scooter and went to the Spencer St outlets, got some food, wandered around the shops, and spent a lovely hour or so doing that,” she says.

 

“It opened up my world. Suddenly I had possibilities, and prior to that I didn’t know if I would ever be able to do that on my own again.”

Janet sits at a table inside a hotel. Her crutch rests against the table. She is smiling at the camera.

Since that first visit, Janet says Travellers Aid’s Southern Cross service hub has become her launching spot for new challenges in the city. Most recently, it was catching a tram for the first time.

“They pick me up from my platform and take me to their offices to use the bathroom, have a coffee, get my bearings, and I talk to the staff about what I want to do,” she says.

“They provide me with a safe haven, a really solid base that I can navigate out from. So everything is centred around Travellers Aid for me.”

She says Travellers Aid’s buggy connection services at Seymour station offer extra reassurance on her trips to town from Shepparton. When coaches replace trains, Janet knows she’ll have support to navigate between the bus terminal and train platform to safely make her connection.

With her confidence growing every day, Janet is again thinking about plane travel and overseas adventures.

“You don’t realise there’s this wonderful group of people who just make everything accessible, and they do it in such a way that nothing’s ever a bother,” she says.

“The kindness is unconditional and so life-affirming. They’ve helped open up my world.”

 

*Janet prefers to use person-first language to describe her autism. Find out more about person-first and identity-first language.