Today we are shocked and devastated to learn of the sudden loss of comedian, disability activist and writer, Stella Young. Stella has been taken from us far too soon, but her legacy will undoubtedly outlive all of us. The outpouring of grief and gratitude for her on social media today is testament to that.
Stella embraced life with vigour and vitality, employing her extraordinary talents as a writer and comedian to entertain, educate and occasionally agitate Australians with and without disability. She was one of a very small handful of artists with disability who have succeeded in bringing experiences of disability into the lounge rooms and consciousness of average Australians. She communicated about disability with a level of honesty and simplicity never seen before.
As Editor of the ABC’s RampUp website, she never lacked the courage, as many might have in her position, to tackle the sleeping issues, the ones which most Australians never think about and which many of us with disability, even those who call ourselves activists, don’t like to talk about for fear of being labelled as “whingers”. This capacity to disrupt the status quo with her characteristic wit and self-deprecating humour was never more evident than when she delivered her TEDx talk entitled “I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much” in which she exposes the perils of “inspiration porn”, the objectification of people with disability to make non-disabled people feel better about their lives. Unsurprisingly, the talk has gone viral internationally.
For many, editing a national website for the ABC would have been enough, but Stella also managed to continue to go from strength to strength as an outstanding comedian. Her debut solo show “Tales from the Crip” which she performed at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April was hugely successful and won her the 2014 Best Newcomer Award. She had plans to tour it nationally and to London in 2015.
Stella was a strong supporter of the work of Arts Access Australia and our members. She worked for Arts Access Victoria for several years and even as her public profile grew, she was never too busy to lend her considerable voice to an issue either through writing or speaking. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing her personally, know that Stella was a generous person with a great sense of fun both on and off stage. We extend our deepest condolences to Stella’s family and friends. The impact of her loss is immeasurable, but her capacity to achieve so much in such a short life is a lesson to all of us about what is possible when we choose to truly take life on.
Stella says it best of course, in a letter to her eighty-year-old self:
“Listen, Stell. I can't tell you for certain that you and I will ever meet. Perhaps that thing I always say flippantly, usually with a third glass of wine in my hand – that I'm here for a good time not a long time – perhaps that's true.
But on my path to reach you, I promise to grab every opportunity with both hands, to say yes as often as I can, to take risks, to scare myself stupid, and to have a shitload of fun."