On Saturday in Melbourne, Australian comedian and disability rights advocate Stella Young died at the age of 32. During part of her career, she worked for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) where she covered disability news, and traveled to the Paralympic Games to cover them. She also wrote for BBC’s disability blog, Ouch!. Her family issued a statement following her death saying, “With great sadness we acknowledge the passing of Stella Young, our much-loved and irreplaceable daughter and sister. […] A private funeral will take place soon, followed by a public event in Melbourne, with more details to come.”
Young was one of the most visible disability rights advocates in Australia, having taken up the role at the young age of 14. As a comedian, she did not mince words on the topic. Amongst her quotes on disability issues, she said, ” 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.” In response to the issue of Oscar Pistorius’s murder charge and disabled role models, she said, “Disabled people are not nice and grateful all the time; we get pissed-off when things don’t go our way, just like everyone else.” On the issue of if the Paralympic Games and the Olympic Games should be integrated, she said, “We get so few opportunities to publicly and raucously celebrate our community and the amazing contributions people with disabilities make. The Paralympics are ours. Hands off.” At a TEDx talk she touched on about how disabled people are portrayed as ‘inspirational’, saying “These images – there are lots of them out there – they are what we call inspiration porn. And I use the term porn deliberately because they objectify one group of people for the benefit of another group of people.”
ABC Managing Director Mark Scott was quoted as saying, “‘Stella helped us understand disability issues by sharing with a raw honesty about her own life and forcing us to reconsider how we think about disability and create an environment where those with disability can best get on with their own lives.”
John Ajaka, NSW minister for disability services, is quoted by the BBC as saying, “She will be truly missed, not just from the disability sector, but by thousands of people who aspired to her positive outlook on life. Stella had a wicked way of making us question and face up to misunderstanding and discrimination against people with a disability – to make us laugh at ourselves.”
ParaSport-News is saddened by this loss. I had the opportunity to meet her in London during the Paralympic Games, and her attitudes towards people with disabilities and how they should be treated play a huge role in how I attempt to depict them in writing disability sport news: As great sportspeople, who just happen to have a disability and should not be defined totally by it. The quality of the sport should matter more, not the personal narrative of how each person came about their disability and is inspirational just by virtue of being able to compete. Stella Young will be missed.