Stella Young: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude”
Stella Young made us laugh and she made us cry. She challenged the stereotype of disability and proved that people with disability are not “inspiration porn”. Her message will long outlast her short life.
Stella was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare genetic bone disorder characterized by fragile bones that break easily. She also spent almost her entire life in wheelchair. For many people, Stella’s life would have been perceived as some sort of an achievement, as inspirational or brave to all those around her.
But in her (now viral) TED Talk “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much”, Stella challenges society’s misperception of people with disability and makes very clear that she is not a “noble inspiration to all humanity”, there is in fact much more to her than her disability. She’s a comedian goddamnit; nothing more, nothing less.
As a comedian, Stella of course brings a light-hearted and humorous touch to the talk. But, she’s actually addressing a much more serious and fundamental concern, which is society’s misconstrued perception of disabled people as “objects of inspiration” or what she calls, “disability porn.”
You only have to glance at social media to find images of disability that are publicised, in certain respects, for the benefit of non-disabled people that make us feel better about ourselves, motivate us and make us realise that life could be worse. But as Stella questions, what if you are that person? What if you do have a disability? Is your story only that of your disability?
Stella, who sadly passed away last year at the age of 32, admitted that life as a person with disability was tough, but she used her body to the best of its capacity. Even more, she accepted her body for what it was (something most people don’t do). She did not see herself as the spokesperson on how to live life with disability. Her story is more than her disability and it is not the only thing that defines her. Stella also understood that people would have a hard time seeing her first before they saw her wheelchair. Society has taught us that disability is a “bad thing”, it’s a sign of unproductivity. But, is it really fair to objectify disability the way that we do?
Stella is right that we have been told a lie about disability and that this perception needs to change. Stella was not inspirational because of her disability, but she was exceptional because she challenged this perception, helping us move one step closer to her wish: to live in a society where disability isn’t an exception but is seen as a part of everyone’s reality. We should continue to build upon the work that Stella has done and strive towards this goal.
Feature image: TED