Last year, journalist and activist Stella Young took the stage at TEDxSydney to shake up typical views of disability: “I am here to tell you that we have been lied to about disability,” she said. “Yeah, we’ve been sold the lie that disability is a Bad Thing, capital B, capital T. It’s a bad thing, and to live with a disability makes you exceptional. It’s not a bad thing, and it doesn’t make you exceptional.”
Young challenged the notion that people with disabilities should be seen as objects of inspiration or people to be pitied. She argued that this objectified people with rich, diverse lives, and that what really disables people with physical and mental handicaps is the way society sees and treats disability.
Tragically, Young passed away last December at age 32. To honor her memory and her idea worth spreading, the team at TEDxSydney has been working with people in their community to develop ways to continue her activism and change the way people think about disability.
The full details of the project will be announced at this year’s event on May 21, but until then, TEDxSydney team member Evelyn Scott spoke with project leads Kim Anderson and Felicity Fellows about the work they are doing to launch the initiative:
E.S.: How did you arrive at the focus for this year’s project?
Felicity: Firstly through a chance conversation with Steven Pozel, Director Object Gallery Australia. Steven did a talk on the application of universal design to address complex challenges, by discovering people’s needs and meeting them with impactful solutions. After his speech, we chatted about a design thinking workshop he’d been a part of with the Curious Collective, business leaders and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, aimed at addressing employment challenges people with disabilities face. He said it was two of the most humbling days of his life. I was also taken aback by the economic potential of creating accessibility solutions.
We went on to talk about Stella Young’s funny and fearless TEDxSydney 2014 talk–and what a loss it was for the world that she is no longer with us. Stella dared those who watched her talk – from the 2,200 in the concert hall and the nearly 2 million who’ve watched it online – to challenge the way they thought about disability.
Our 2015 TEDxSydney Impact project is dedicated to Stella, and through it we are hoping to continue the conversation she was so passionate about changing. We want to do Stella and her family proud.
E.S.: What do you hope to achieve from it?
Kim: We began with the recognition that disability is something that can and will affect all of us in our lifetime – not something we should feel uncomfortable about, or shy away from simply because we may be uncertain about how to act or what we can do contribute to the inclusion of those living with a disability. We wish to enable our community to lead the way so that disability becomes an accepted norm.
The process for this project was extraordinary, starting with a series of empathy interviews conducted with our community, and those who have had a personal connection to disability. An Advisory Group was then appointed to solve the challenge that Stella had articulated so eloquently for the audience in 2014, using the abundance of rich insights from this research.
The talented Gauri Bhalla (Curious Collective) facilitated a design thinking workshop to develop a greater understanding of the underlying social issues and societal perceptions surrounding this complex topic. These discoveries led us to a realisation about the role that the TEDxSydney community could play in furthering the advocacy journey Stella had initiated in her life’s work.
We’re excited to be announcing the initiative at the event, and letting the audience know tangible ways they can get involved.
E.S.: What is your long-term ambition for TEDxSydney Impact?
Kim: TEDxSydney Impact is all about creating a vehicle for change, galvanising our community to collectively channel good energy into worthwhile campaigns and initiatives with a purpose. I feel we’ve birthed a really purposeful part of the curatorial agenda that will live on long beyond our individual association with the event.
Felicity and I have also been in the privileged position to share our ideas and new concepts with the global network of TEDx organisers that we have met over the past few years. Another important focus of this is to create a framework for social impact projects that can be shared with other TED and other TEDx events. We’re aiming to evolve the brand as a platform for important initiatives that matter to each individual community.
E.S.: You have both been involved with TEDxSydney for a number of years. What has been the greatest learning from your experience so far?
Felicity: To trust your instinct and to run with ideas before you know what you’re doing. That, and that there is no greater fulfillment than doing meaningful work with brilliant people.
Kim: The powerful things we can achieve with a small and dedicated bunch of impressive individuals – I’m perpetually amazed and proud of our achievements. Collaborating on projects with a purpose has made each year so worthwhile and rewarding.