Vale Stella Young – Strong and proud disability activist

8 December 2014

People with Disability Australia (PWDA) expresses our shock and sadness at the passing of well-loved disability activist, Stella Young, and sends our heartfelt condolences to Stella’s family and friends.

PWDA President, Craig Wallace provides the following statement:

Like everyone I am heartbroken and devastated at the passing of my dear friend, colleague and disability advocate Stella Young.

I was looking forward to catching up with her later this week and I can’t believe that she has left us at just 32 years old.

Stella was a brilliant commentator, conversationalist, friend and above all a damn fine writer and comedian.

I don’t know that Stella realised how good she was.  She could take an issue and turn it inside out and come up with a witty turn of phrase that changed the way we thought about things.

The high point of this was her use of the term ‘inspiration porn’ as a way of describing the way that people with disability have been used as objects of pity and faux inspiration for decades. Taking on this culture of pity was tricky territory to negotiate and Stella knew it, but she forged ahead anyway.

Stella applied critical thinking to so many issues that had been hidden away for so long but above all she was the right person when disability needed a dynamic public spokesperson who was gutsy, sharp as a tack and unafraid in the campaign for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Never partisan and always careful in her role as the editor of ABC Ramp Up, Stella was nonetheless a proud voice when we needed one.  One that could communicate disability to Australia in a way that was fresh and original.

Stella described herself as a “proud crip” and this was a breath of fresh air for all of us who had spent decades watching disability treated as a tragedy, a medical issue or an act of fate rather than a valid personal identity.   Stella didn’t just moan about the medical model of disability – she excoriated it and changed it.

Like many in the disability community I was disappointed in the closure of ABC Ramp Up, which she nurtured and loved, but was also excited to see what she would do next including her coming book.

Recently Stella wrote a letter to herself at 80 years old, fighting against the assumption that we die young.  It was a sparkling piece of writing like everything she did.  Stella wrote that:

“By the time I get to you, I’ll have written things that change the way people think about disability. I’ll have been part of a strong, beautiful, proud movement of disabled people in Australia. I’ll have said and written things that pissed people off, disabled and non-disabled people. You will never, ever stop challenging the things you think are unfair”.

Stella, you’ve already got us there.