Rarely does piercing intelligence and dry comedic wit combine as well as it did in the life of Stella Young, an Australian comedian, journalist, social commentator and activist.
Stella didn’t wait long to get the ball rolling on the activism front: aged 14 she conducted an accessibility audit of the main street businesses of her hometown.
In many ways, this action tells us all we need to know about Stella’s approach to life: a no-nonsense, no-bullshit (her term not ours), practical, outcome-based philosophy that focussed on getting things done – and Stella certainly got many fine things done in her all too brief 32 years.
Let us quickly and shamelessly turn to Wikipedia for a recap of the stepping stones of her career before we dive in to what made Stella an absolute legend.
- Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and PR
- Graduate Diploma in Education
- Graduated 2004, worked for a time as a secondary school teacher
- Worked as an educator at Melbourne Museum
- Hosted eight seasons of No Limits, a disability culture program on Channel 31
- Served as editor for the ABC’s online magazine Ramp Up.
- Won “Best Newcomer” award at the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
- Board member of about half a dozen important disability advocacy councils.
- Inducted posthumously in 2017 to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in recognition of her work as a “journalist, comedian, feminist and fierce disability activist”.
Thanks Wikipedia! We can always count on you to come up with the goods!
OK, so clearly Stella achieved so much, but what is it about her that made her truly ‘Someone You Should Know’?
Well, Stella’s biggest gift to us was the way she was able to articulate how society misconceives disability, and help educate people away from their misunderstandings.
In 2012, as editor of Ramp Up magazine, she wrote a piece that called out Social Media’s habit of turning disabled people into Inspirational memes. This concept was articulated beautifully in her 2014 TEDx talk entitled “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much”.
We can’t recommend this talk highly enough, and we’ll pop the link at the end of this article, but allow us to summarise the thrust of Stella’s glorious argument here.
Stella contends that:
“We’ve been sold the lie that disability is a Bad Thing. And so to live with disability makes you somehow exceptional. Truth is it’s not a bad thing and it doesn’t make you exceptional.”
She points out the alarming amount of “Inspiration Porn” out there on Social Media – where stirring images of people with disabilities striving against the odds are coupled with equally stirring passages of text – and the purpose of these memes is to make the person without a disability ponder their own good fortune, compared to the unfortunate souls with a disability.
Stella points out that though this may seem on face value to be positive and affirming, what it really does is reinforce the myth that disabled people are somehow exceptional for “simply managing to get out of bed in the morning and being able to remember their own name.” Which is a load of rubbish, she contends, we’re all just people doing everything to the best of our capacity, and the last thing anyone needs is a world that “exceptionalizes and objectifies” people with a disability.
Let’s put aside the ‘worship’ because it’s actually harmful and impractical, and let’s just be real and constructive about all this, is her argument.
There’s a priceless moment in Stella’s TEDx talk where she quotes one of the memes “The only disability in life is a bad attitude”, and says “The reason that that’s bullshit, is because it’s just not true… no amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp.”
Look, we could go on and on about Stella, but our attempts at unpacking her work and philosophy don’t do her justice. So pop the kettle on and settle in for this TEDx talk. It’s Stella in full flight – articulate, warm, funny and just SO on the money.
It’s awfully sad to think that Stella passed away unexpectedly eight months after this TED talk from a suspected aneurism – the world really could do with her humour and insight right about now.
But you do get the feeling that what she set in motion lives on.
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