Stella Young wasn’t here to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. She made that perfectly clear.
And by flat-out rejecting "inspiration porn," the woman with a bone disease who died suddenly on Saturday effectively subverted the conversation surrounding disabilities.
Born in Victoria, Australia, Young lived with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder that caused her bones to break easily, and led her to use a wheelchair, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She was 32 when she died.
While the comedian accepted her condition, she couldn’t welcome the inane way people talked about her disability.
When Young was 15, for example, her community wanted to honor her with an achievement award. The issue, however, was that the Dawson’s Creek-watching teen hadn’t accomplished anything at that point in her life other than get to where she was expected to be and complete the tasks she was expected to do, Young said during a TEDx talk in June.
Her parents politely rejected the honor.
This idea soon became her crusade.
During her TED talk, Young pointed to a number of oft-shared uplifting images, including one of a boy playing wheelchair basketball that was paired with the saying, "Your excuse is invalid."
She explained why such popular pictures can be so damaging.
"These images … they are what we call inspiration porn," she said. "The purpose of these images is to inspire you, to motivate you, so that we can look at them and think, 'Well, however bad my life is, it could be worse. I could be that person.'"
The most challenging issue for people with disabilities, Young often reminded, has nothing to do with physical limitations. Rather, it’s the barriers brought on by society.
As an outspoken public figure, Young built a persona around rejecting what was expected of her.
In addition to supporting a number of advocacy organizations, Young edited ABC's Ramp Up, a disability news and opinion website, which eventually closed after it was defunded by the government, according to the Guardian.
Young refused to filter her speech, going so far as to describe herself as a "crip," even though it offended members of the disability community, according to ABC.
"She took great delight in challenging conventional wisdom and lazy thinking," Mark Scott, ABC managing director, said in a statement.
Young died unexpectedly, but was in no pain, according to her family.
Her relatives have asked supporters to donate to Domestic Violence Victoria in her name, since it was a cause she "felt intensely passionate about."
Find out more about Domestic Violence Victoria and how you can get involved here.