I didn’t know Stella Young too well. We worked together for a few years but it wasn’t until she started getting heavily involved in—or I just started noticing on social media—feminism, disability advocacy and social justice in general that we realised we had more in common than we thought. She even commented on this when I bumped into her at a party.
I was quite shocked to get the news of her passing yesterday morning, as it seemed like only a few days before she was live tweeting Four Corners and posting pictures of lunch with friends.
As others, most notably Stella’s good friend, Clementine Ford, have written, Stella wasn’t interested in being your inspiration. (Though when discussing her death at work yesterday, that word was thrown around a bit.)
In addition to me checking the language I use to speak to and about people with disabilities, though, Stella did teach me a few things, whether directly or through her important work. They are:
Make noise about inaccessibility. It’s shocking to come to the realisation that not only are the majority of places and services inaccessible but that most people don’t even think twice about it. For example, Stella spoke at a Melbourne Writers Festival event in 2013 about the book Destroying the Joint. Stella managed to get in the joint but the event started late because it didn’t occur to the organisers that she couldn’t get onto the stage. She told a story of some of the hired help offering to lift her and her chair onto the stage, but she’d long since stopped accepting such assistance. Why should she be made to feel infantilised when the embarrassment should fall to the event organisers?
A few months ago Stella traveled to the U.S. in pursuit of her work (what exactly I wasn’t privy to). I remember seeing something on her Facebook or Twitter about how proactive the U.S. is about accessibility and that returning home to Melbourne made her realise how far behind the eight ball we actually are. I was shocked at this revelation as, looking back on my trip to the U.S. last year, I don’t remember accessibility standing out to me. This proves my above point that so many people for whom accessibility is not an issue are oblivious to it, even those who claim to be allies.
One of the more popular rants Stella went on on social media was about an accessible toilet at a Melbourne bar being used as a storage area. The pressure she and her followers put on the bar (whose name escapes me) saw them making changes almost immediately.
And just a couple of weeks ago, when Stella was live tweeting Four Corners, she influenced the language I use to describe support workers. In my job, I have to interact with support workers quite regularly, whom I’d always referred to as carers. From the point of seeing her tweet onwards, I now call them support workers.
Stella left us with an impressive body of work including comedy stylings and written words in addition to her advocacy. Perhaps most touchingly, her final piece was published recently as part of the book Between Us: Women of Letters. It was a letter to her 80-year-old self.