“That quote, ‘the only disability in life is a bad attitude’, the reason that’s bullshit
is….No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp.
No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshelf and radiating a positive
attitude is going to turn all those books into braille.”
Stella Young, 1982 – 2014
It seems like the disability advocacy community, despite being quite large and spread out all over the over the world, becomes very small when it loses one of its own. I saw it when activist and blogger Elizabeth McClung died after her long illness, and I’m seeing it last night and today as people process the news that Stella Young has died. I can see my sense of loss reflected back to me from Facebook and Twitter, and I’m sure that I’ll see it from other bloggers today.
I never met Stella Young, but her writing both validated thoughts that I was having about disability and opened my eyes to things that I hadn’t thought about, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.
About Stella Young
Born in Australia, Stella was doing advocacy work in her community from the age of 14. She became the editor of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Ramp Up” site for news and opinions about disability. She also sat on a number of boards and committees to further disability advocacy causes, did writing about the Paraolympics, why she called herself a “crip”, and other disability issues, and hosted eight seasons of “No Limits”, a disability culture television program.
Also a comedian, Stella Young was a two-time state finalist for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Raw Comedy Competition.
Stella Young and Me
The first of Stella Young’s essays that I read was about genetic testing for disabilities. She described an incident on a bus:
“A few years ago I was approached by a nervous looking woman on a tram on my way home from work. “Excuse me,” she said. “Do you have Osteogenesis Imperfecta?” With a friendly tone, I confirmed that I do. Most of the time when people are specific with the name of a relatively rare condition like mine, it’s because they know someone else with it. So I was surprised by her next line. “I was pregnant with a baby with OI and I had a termination.” I nodded, but let that sentence hang in the air between us for a moment. My throat had tightened and I didn’t quite trust myself to speak. It was she who broke the silence for us both. Looking me directly in the eye, she took a deep breath and said, “I made the right decision.” Then she got off the tram.”
You can read the whole thing here. She went on with the discussion about genetic testing without discussing her personal reaction to the incident, but it thoroughly shook me. I just couldn’t imagine what would possess a person to speak that way to another person.
Maybe it shook her more than she indicated, too. But she usually wrote very honestly about her experience, and this really didn’t seem to affect her all that much. And I remember thinking, “Wow – I want to be that comfortable with being disabled, that immovable in my belief in my inherent worth as a disabled person, that hearing something like that wouldn’t get to me.” Because I’m pretty comfortable with myself, but I don’t know if I’m that comfortable.
I knew that I wanted to hear more from Stella Young.
Stella Young: I Am Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much
Stella Young’s TED talk about why she doesn’t like inspiration porn is very thought-provoking and still widely-shared, despite being out on the internet for quite some time. I remember putting it up on the Facebook page.
This makes my advocate heart soar.
Rest in peace, Stella, We won’t forget you.