Parliament: Interesting Speeches

Stella Young

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: Yesterday, 24 February 2015, would have been the 33rd birthday of the very fabulous Stella Young, but as some members may be aware, Stella passed away, much too soon, on 6 December last year. I had the somewhat unenviable honour of speaking at Stella’s memorial service, which was held at Melbourne Town Hall on 19 December, to celebrate with her family, friends and supporters the fantastic amount of living that she managed to squeeze into 32 years of life and the extraordinary positive impact that she had made lobbying for change on behalf of people with disability.

As you are probably aware, Stella was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, more commonly, and certainly more crudely, known as brittle bone disease, a physical disability. What she lacked in height she certainly made up for in hilarious wit and sarcastic comments. She was a talented writer, a journalist with the ABC and a comedian, as well as a public speaker on disability rights issues. Today, nearly three months since she died, Stella’s loss is still keenly felt by me and by others in the disability community. Family and friends, of course, would be feeling it more keenly on the occasion of her birthday.

Stella had a tattoo on her arm which was a quote from a Laura Hershey poem, which stated ‘You get proud by practising’. I would like to touch on some of the things I mentioned at her memorial service and some of the ways that people with disabilities are still ‘getting proud by practising’.

In my opinion, Stella embodied so many of the best things about several movements that are greatly important to me. As a woman, she was outspoken, funny and fearless. As a disabled person, she was proud, honest and a leader who was not going to wait for the world to catch up but was out there actively showing the world how it was done. Stella never took the easy way out not only because I believe that this was an innate part of her driven nature but also because, like me, she knew that for too many people with disabilities there is still no easy way.

If we lived in a world in which every person had the option of living the easy way, then, for example, those of us who use mobility aids would be able to jump on a bus, train or tram to get to and from work without worrying about the accessibility of that particular vehicle or whether there would be a kerb ramp at the train, tram or bus stop.

The easy way of living is one in which no disabled person sees their taxes time and time again paying for services which we ourselves cannot use, and in this world you would not have to wait for someone well-respected and loved in our community to pass away to hold an event as accessible as the memorial for Stella Young was. This standard ought to be the norm so that we can not only come together as a community in times of grief but also get on with living our daily life.

Stella knew, as many of us do, that this is not yet the world in which we live. People with disabilities are still burdened, stifled and squandered by the low expectations of others. We are still all too often denied educational opportunities equal to those offered to our non-disabled peers. We are still expected to carry out menial work, regardless of our individual interests or talents, for wages that would be not only insulting but also illegal for others to receive. We can be held in prison for years without charge, and we can be denied a say in our own reproductive rights. These are just some of the ways that people with disabilities are having to ‘get proud by practising’. We will fight against these things, against the better judgement of society at large.

We know that our population is ageing at an alarming rate and that we need to prepare a society that is accessible and welcoming to everyone. We know that providing someone with a good education helps them live a longer and healthier life, with less reliance on government services. We know that all of us need access to our community as the population ages, and we must continue to make these arguments clearly, loudly, without fear and, of course, proudly. Stella, we miss you, we need you, and we will be here ‘getting proud by practising’. My thoughts are with Stella’s family and friends every day and especially on the occasion of her 33rd birthday. Happy birthday, Stella; thank you for everything.