Monday, December 8, 2014

Australian disability activist, TED speaker, former Ramp Up editor, comedian Stella Young dies

I had the honor of meeting Stella Young in July 2014 in Washington, D.C. when she was touring the USA as part of the U.S. State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program. This picture is from our meeting, and she proudly shows her tattoo, "You get proud by practicing," which is from a poem by the late disability writer/poet Laura Hershey.

She was a longtime disability activist, editor, writer, comedian, but more importantly, she was confronting ableist attitudes worldwide with her TED talk about inspiration porn and her comedy. In my opinion, she is the one who truly began the attack on patronizing inspiration porn about disabled people with her 2012 article, "We're not here for your inspiration."

Young had gained so much international recognition from her June 2014 TED talk that when news of her death became known on social media in the northern hemisphere Dec. 7, her name became a top trending topic on Twitter. Her most recent article, from Nov. 22, titled, "Stella Young's letter to herself at 80 years old," was being shared all over social media.

Although known for her disability activism, she was also a fierce advocate for women's rights and LGBT equality in Australia, according to Melbourne writer Sinead Stubbins. "Stella was a champion of non-normative communities, and a critic of the frameworks that exploit them," Stubbins writes.

She was editor of Australia's ABC Ramp Up, a news and opinion website by and for disabled people started in 2011, which was shut down by the network in June 2014. Most disability advocates in Australia felt the end of Ramp Up was a travesty. A Save Ramp Up movement began soon after. Dr. George Taleporos, who leads the Save ABC Ramp Up campaign, wrote in The Guardian in June 2014: “Our discussion space will be gone. The voice of people with disabilities, a voice the ABC has nurtured for the past three and a half years, will be silenced."

University of Wollongong journalism lecturer Shawn Burns, who is affiliated with Save ABC Ramp Up, said, "Ramp Up was providing space for people with disabilities and disability issues to be presented as a part of the greater fabric of society – with all diversity. The mothballing of Ramp Up is a retrograde step."  Its shuttering robbed Australia of much needed discussion of disability issues by disabled people. Taleporos chats with Burns in this video about the shut down of Ramp Up.

Stella Young has hundreds of articles and talks, most available online: 

The story about her death from ABC News in Australia:

Prominent disability activist, writer and comedian Stella Young has died aged 32.

Ms Young was the former editor of the ABC's disability news and opinion website, Ramp Up.
Her family said she passed away unexpectedly on Saturday evening.

"With great sadness we acknowledge the passing of Stella Young, our much-loved and irreplaceable daughter and sister," the family said in a statement.

"Stella passed away on Saturday evening, unexpectedly, but in no pain.

"A private funeral will take place soon, followed by a public event in Melbourne, with more details to come.
"Our loss is a deeply personal one. We request privacy during this difficult time."

Ms Young was born in Stawell, in country Victoria, with Osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder that causes bones to break easily.

Her advocacy began at the age of 14 when she conducted an access audit on the shops on the local main street.

She was an ambassador for Our Watch and has been a member of various boards and committees in the disability sector.

Ms Young proudly described herself as a "crip" despite objections by others.

"People get all up in arms when I describe myself as a crip because what they hear is the word 'cripple' and they hear a word you're not allowed to say anymore," she told 720 ABC Perth in 2012.

"Crip is a word that I find empowering the same way that some members of the gay community, but not all members of the gay community, find the word 'queer' empowering."

Ms Young was a member of the Victorian Disability Advisory Council, the Ministerial Advisory Council for the Department of Victorian Communities, the Youth Disability Advocacy Service and Women with Disabilities Victoria.

She was a two-time state finalist in Melbourne International Comedy Festival's Raw Comedy competition and hosted eight seasons of Australia's first disability culture program, No Limits, on Channel 31.

She had been a regular contributor to ABC's The Drum since 2011, writing about issues for disabled people in the wider community and the disability services sector.

Ms Young also wrote for Mamamia and The Punch.

She campaigned hard against the idea that having a disability made her exceptional or brave.

"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," she said in April this year.

"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."

"Disability doesn't make you exceptional, but questioning what you think you know about it does."

Stella Young's background from her IVLP paperwork:

(Photo by BA Haller)

 From the story about her death from ABC News in Australia:

Stella Young was 'incisive, challenging and provocative'

ABC managing director Mark Scott described Ms Young as "an unforgettable communicator and a passionate advocate".

"As a writer and broadcaster Stella was sharp and incisive, challenging and provocative," he said in a statement.

"She was very warm and generous, the first to laugh and to make us all laugh.

"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.

"She took great delight in challenging conventional wisdom and lazy thinking."