Tribute to the Funny and Fearless Stella Young
Written by Ally Oliver-Perham
Stella Young, celebrated Australian comedian, journalist and activist, passed away suddenly, but peacefully on Saturday 6 December 2014, aged 32. Today, we pay tribute to her lasting legacy, and her unique, spunky character.
Stella Young was a woman of guts and razor sharp wit. She grew up in a small town in country Victoria. She got pretty good marks, had great mates at school, watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and fought with her younger sisters. In short, as a teenager Stella Young was a wonderfully ordinary girl, who just happened to be in a wheelchair.
Stella was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a condition which causes bones to break quite easily. She never allowed herself to be defined by her disability (except on her own terms) and she was often quite surprised and disappointed by members of the public who focussed solely on what she could or couldn’t do.
Her activism career began at the age of 14, when she first lobbied for greater accessibility on the main street of her town. Throughout her career as a journalist and comedian, she advocated for greater access for people with disabilities in all areas of life.
Stella also fought back against the praise abled-bodied people sent her way, like those who called her an ‘inspiration’ for simply getting out of bed and remembering her own name in the morning. She rightly interpreted this way of thinking as ‘inspiration porn’, where those living with disabilities are held up as some sort of hero or motivator in the lives of other people. As in, “Well, however bad my life is, it could be worse. I could be that person”.
And while calling someone ‘an inspiration’ might be meant well, Stella asserted that in doing so, abled-body people turn people with disabilities into objects. They reduce them to an object of inspiration, rather than a person with depth, talents and character.
Stella talked about this mindset at length, in her funny and insightful TEDx talk, ‘I’m Not Your Inspiration’:
“I am not here to inspire you. I am here to tell you that we have been lied to about disability. Yeah, we’ve been sold the lie that disability is a Bad Thing, capital B, capital T. It’s a bad thing, and to live with a disability makes you exceptional. It’s not a bad thing, and it doesn’t make you exceptional.” – Stella
Stella was also a famously funny woman. A Melbourne Comedy festival regular, she held court in venues around the country, was a two-time state finalist in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Raw Comedy competition; hosted eight seasons of Australia’s first disability culture program No Limits.
She was also a proud ambassador for Our Watch, a non-profit organisation which works to decrease violence against women, and publicly spoke out against discrimination and sexism.
I really want to live in a world where disability is not the exception, but the norm. I want to live in a world where a 15-year-old girl sitting in her bedroom watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” isn’t referred to as achieving anything because she’s doing it sitting down.
I want to live in a world where we don’t have such low expectations of disabled people that we are congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our own names in the morning.
I want to live in a world where we value genuine achievement for disabled people, and I want to live in a world where a kid in year 11 in a Melbourne high school is not one bit surprised that his new teacher is a wheelchair user.
And despite everything she said, Stella Young was a inspiration – not because she had a disability and still got out of bed – no way. She was a huge inspiration because she was funny, big hearted and remained fiercely vocal about the issues that mattered. And for that she’ll be impossible to forget.
Ally is a Melbourne-based designer, educator and one of the co-creators of Rosie. She is addicted to This American Life podcasts, wasabi peas and red lipstick. Her dog Scout is widely acknowledged as her spirit animal. Ally loves being able to put feminist issues front and centre.
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