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picture courtesy of https://www.australiancarealliance.org.au/opposed_stellayoung

Stella Young: Nobody’s Inspiration

accessibility pioneers

Stella Young wore many hats. She was an Australian comedian, worked on a TV show, and ran her own article. Young was born in Stawell in Western Victoria, Australia on February 24th, 1982, with a genetic disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known to many as “brittle bone disease.” Although this disease caused her to remain in a wheelchair for most of her life, she never let it define her. She became a disability rights advocate.

One thing she noted about her beginning years is “My parents didn’t know what to do with me so they just pretended I was normal and that worked out quite well for me.” This mindset is what would shape her years to come. This began at the age of 14, when she started her activist work conducting an access audit of the shops on her main street. 

By the time Young reached adulthood she went to Deakin University where she, like many others at her age, began her journey of independence. She learned a lot about navigating the city from her friend Caroline Bowditch. Caroline also helped Stella modify her bathroom to be more accessible and gave her many tips about how to catch the train around Melbourne. At University, she got a degree in journalism and she later completed a Graduate Diploma at the University of Melbourne. Through her years in college and graduate school, she was a member of the Victorian Disability Advisory Council, Ministerial Advisory Council for the Department of Victorian communities and Women With Disabilities Victoria.

In 2003, Young's work began to catch the public eye She hosted eight seasons of Australia’s first disability culture program called No Limits. It aired on Channel 31 and community stations across the country. No Limits was a show about what it’s like to live with a disability and it fostered community and identity for many. In 2007, Young’s work transitioned to the Public Programs at Melbourne Museum, where she taught kids about bugs, dinosaurs and began to experiment with Comedy. During this time she became a two-time state finalist in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Raw Comedy competition.

Young was a well-known figure in Australia, where she advocated for greater access for people with disabilities. In 2010, her advocacy work came to fruition when she became an editor for Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), for Ramp Up, a series of articles and discussions around disability. All of the articles are still up to this day on ABC’s website. Unfortunately, ABC discontinued funding and the community was forced to find other spaces for continued engagement and growth As this was happening, ironically, Young had an opportunity to pursue a different offer

This culminated in 2014 in her Ted Talk “I’m Not Your Inspiration Thank You Very Much” where she discussed issues around disabled tokenism. Specifically, that disabled individuals are often seen as an inspiration to non-disabled individuals, to tell themselves “At least it's not me.” Young often spoke about how living in her body was not all that different from the lives of able bodied individuals; it was the way the world responded to her disability that made it challenging. 

“We’ve been sold this lie that disability makes you exceptional and it honestly doesn’t… 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.”  

Shortly after this event Stella passed at the age of 32 on December 8, 2014. Her work was an inspiration and shows how hard work and determination leaves a lasting impact on the world. In honor of her memory, I challenge you to listen to her words. See her as one who empowers change rather than one who inspires change, and make a conscious effort to foster that within yourself and your community.If you would like to learn more about Stella Young there is a website dedicated to her that outlines her work and life in detail. 

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