0:11I grew up in a very small country townin Victoria.I had a very normal, low-key kind of upbringing.I went to school, I hung out with my friends,I fought with my younger sisters.It was all very normal.And when I was 15, a member of my local communityapproached my parentsand wanted to nominate mefor a community achievement award.And my parents said, "Hm, that's really nice,but there's kind of one glaring problem with that.She hasn't actually achieved anything." (Laughter)
0:48And they were right, you know.I went to school, I got good marks,I had a very low-key after school jobin my mum's hairdressing salon,and I spent a lot of time watching"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dawson's Creek."Yeah, I know. What a contradiction.But they were right, you know.I wasn't doing anything that was out of the ordinaryat all.I wasn't doing anything that could be considered an achievementif you took disability out of the equation.Years later, I was on my second teaching roundin a Melbourne high school,and I was about 20 minutes into a year 11 legal studies classwhen this boy put up his hand and said,"Hey miss, when are you going to start doing your speech?"And I said, "What speech?"You know, I'd been talking themabout defamation law for a good 20 minutes.And he said, "You know, like,your motivational speaking.You know, when people in wheelchairs come to school,they usually say, like, inspirational stuff?"(Laughter)"It's usually in the big hall."
1:57And that's when it dawned on me:This kid had only ever experienced disabled peopleas objects of inspiration.We are not, to this kid —and it's not his fault, I mean,that's true for many of us.For lots of us, disabled people are not our teachersor our doctors or our manicurists.We're not real people. We are there to inspire.And in fact, I am sitting on this stagelooking like I do in this wheelchair,and you are probably kind of expecting meto inspire you. Right? (Laughter)Yeah.
2:40Well, ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraidI'm going to disappoint you dramatically.I am not here to inspire you.I am here to tell you that we have been lied toabout disability.Yeah, we've been sold the liethat disability is a Bad Thing, capital B, capital T.It's a bad thing, and to live with a disabilitymakes you exceptional.It's not a bad thing, and it doesn'tmake you exceptional.
3:10And in the past few years, we've been ableto propagate this lie even furthervia social media.You may have seen images like this one:"The only disability in life is a bad attitude."Or this one: "Your excuse is invalid." Indeed.Or this one: "Before you quit, try!"These are just a couple of examples,but there are a lot of these images out there.You know, you might have seen the one,the little girl with no handsdrawing a picture with a pencil held in her mouth.You might have seen a child runningon carbon fiber prosthetic legs.And these images,there are lots of them out there,they are what we call inspiration porn.(Laughter)And I use the term porn deliberately,because they objectify one group of peoplefor the benefit of another group of people.So in this case, we're objectifying disabled peoplefor the benefit of nondisabled people.The purpose of these imagesis to inspire you, to motivate you,so that we can look at themand think, "Well, however bad my life is,it could be worse.I could be that person."
4:29But what if you are that person?I've lost count of the number of times that I'vebeen approached by strangerswanting to tell me that they think I'm braveor inspirational,and this was long before my workhad any kind of public profile.They were just kind of congratulating mefor managing to get up in the morningand remember my own name. (Laughter)And it is objectifying.These images, those imagesobjectify disabled peoplefor the benefit of nondisabled people.They are there so that you can look at themand think that things aren't so bad for you,to put your worries into perspective.
5:11And life as a disabled personis actually somewhat difficult.We do overcome some things.But the things that we're overcomingare not the things that you think they are.They are not things to do with our bodies.I use the term "disabled people" quite deliberately,because I subscribe to what's called the social model of disability,which tells us that we are more disabledby the society that we live inthan by our bodies and our diagnoses.
5:42So I have lived in this body a long time.I'm quite fond of it.It does the things that I need it to do,and I've learned to use it to the best of its capacityjust as you have,and that's the thing about those kids in those pictures as well.They're not doing anything out of the ordinary.They are just using their bodiesto the best of their capacity.So is it really fair to objectify themin the way that we do,to share those images?People, when they say, "You're an inspiration,"they mean it as a compliment.And I know why it happens.It's because of the lie, it's because we've been soldthis lie that disability makes you exceptional.And it honestly doesn't.
6:31And I know what you're thinking.You know, I'm up here bagging out inspiration,and you're thinking, "Jeez, Stella,aren't you inspired sometimes by some things?"And the thing is, I am.I learn from other disabled people all the time.I'm learning not that I am luckier than them, though.I am learning that it's a genius ideato use a pair of barbecue tongsto pick up things that you dropped. (Laughter)I'm learning that nifty trick where you can chargeyour mobile phone battery from your chair battery.Genius.We are learning from each others' strength and endurance,not against our bodies and our diagnoses,but against a world that exceptionalizesand objectifies us.
7:20I really think that this lie that we've been soldabout disability is the greatest injustice.It makes life hard for us.And that quote, "The only disability in lifeis a bad attitude,"the reason that that's bullshitis because it's just not true,because of the social model of disability.No amount of smiling at a flight of stairshas ever made it turn into a ramp.Never. (Laughter) (Applause)Smiling at a television screenisn't going to make closed captions appearfor people who are deaf.No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshopand radiating a positive attitudeis going to turn all those books into braille.It's just not going to happen.
8:17I really want to live in a worldwhere disability is not the exception, but the norm.I want to live in a world where a 15-year-old girlsitting in her bedroomwatching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"isn't referred to as achieving anythingbecause she's doing it sitting down.I want to live in a worldwhere we don't have such low expectationsof disabled peoplethat we are congratulated for getting out of bedand remembering our own names in the morning.I want to live in a world where we value genuine achievementfor disabled people,and I want to live in a worldwhere a kid in year 11 in a Melbourne high schoolis not one bit surprisedthat his new teacher is a wheelchair user.
9:01Disability doesn't make you exceptional,but questioning what you think you know about it does.