This morning I took to Twitter as I usually do throughout the day to keep an eye on the latest breaking news and information about politics and the world around us. Cruelly though, the first thing that caught my eye was a newly sent out tweet breaking the sad news that disability advocate and comedian Stella Young had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on the weekend.
I had to do a double-take. Were my eyes really seeing what was on my phone screen? Still recovering from the tragic passing of Phillip Hughes, now I had to contemplate the loss of another prominent Australian figure. This time a little more personal.
A couple of years ago a report was released by PricewaterhouseCoopers about disability in Australia. It contained some truly distressing statistics in terms of employment and poverty among those with a disability in Australia.
At that point I had been writing for a brief period of time. I had nothing published at that point aside from some thoughts on my own personal blog at the time. I began to furiously write a piece railing against those terrible numbers.
I hammered that piece out in about 45 minutes and shot it off to The Drum, not knowing about the existence of Ramp Up at that time. A short time later I received an email from Stella introducing herself and offering to publish my angry rant on the ABC disability portal.
I had always been an advocate for people with disability, having been born with one myself. But the opportunity Stella gave me opened up a whole new avenue of advocacy I had never contemplated. It gave me the belief that my message, however small and insignificant, could help deliver change in the lives of those with a disability in Australia.
Stella was an intellectual giant – not just in the field of disability advocacy, but also comedy and feminism. She brought her thoughts and feelings to us with incisive wit and sharp and biting humour.
Issues related to disability are all too often overlooked and that people with a disability are often underestimated, even downright forgotten about.
I remarked today that there are two people in Australia I see as having had the biggest impact on disability politics in Australia in the 21st century – both in different ways, but both so important. Stella Young was one of those people. Assisted by the platform given to her by the ABC, but sadly taken away by a narrow-minded funding decision, disability suddenly had an energetic national voice aside from that of Bill Shorten – whose job it is as a politician to institute programs to help the vulnerable.
I never met Stella, but emailed her a number of times over a couple of years with pitches. She was enthusiastic and offered all-important constructive criticism. Despite that, I am deeply saddened by her sudden and unexpected passing.
Knowing her has helped me grow as a person. And her work will help the nation take a big leap forward.
Her voice and presence will be hard to replace. It will probably take a number of people to fill her shoes.
Thank you Stella. Thank you and goodbye