I was in a strange city, walking up the footpath, trailing along the shop fronts with my cane. My concentration was broken when she said my name as she passed.
It was the only time I ever met Stella in person. I’d been sent to Melbourne for a training workshop, and we’d managed to schedule a dinner with her and a couple of other mutual friends.
We walked back up the road to our dinner, me holding the back of her chair, letting her guide me through the unfamiliar territory.
I’ve not often been out with wheelchair users, so I felt that two wheelchairs, a short statured man and a blind cane user may have generated a stare or two that night. Honestly none of us could have cared less.
There were observations, there was good food (I had some seafood pasta dish – maybe not the best choice when you can’t see what you’re eating), I remember Stella complimenting the waitress’s tattoo. And of course there was laughing.
I’d been talking with Stella for ages before this meeting of course. Via email and other networks. She spent ages trying to get me to write something for Ramp Up, possibly because it took some time for the site to get some contributions from vision impaired people.
Stella often invited my feedback on all sorts of things. She was as aware as I that being blind, my perception wasn’t the same as hers, but she also got that my perception didn’t have match anyone else’s either.
I can remember a particular set of emails where we discussed some idea’s she’d presented in an interview on JJJ. In talking about her impairment she said:
“I absolutely acknowledge that it is not a positive experience, but I wouldn’t be who I am without it – and so I can’t bring myself to reject it as a wholly negative experience either.”
And that’s what Stella wanted us all to realise. Yes, life can be a bit crap, whatever your condition, but it’s not actually all bad. We are who we are, and it’s actually not all bad.
As she said in her well-covered TEDx Talk:
“…we have been lied to about disability. 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 disability makes you exceptional. It’s not a bad thing, and it doesn’t make you exceptional.”
A better advocate we could not have had.
Stella influenced the way I think about myself, and the way I want others to think of me. I’d love to live up to the self-image that Stella presented of herself.
Stella wasn’t just someone who taught me about myself, she was a friend. She celebrated with my at the birth of our son, she sent him a wonderful, tactile, knitted beanie. She talked to me through the lows and highs that happened since.
Stella was often busy, working at her comedy, her advocacy and of course her knitting. I didn’t always get to talk to her as much as I wanted.
When I heard that she had passed away this morning, I felt shock. I was sitting at my desk at work, and I could barely move. Then I called my wife, we went and had something unhealthy and talked about Stella.
I know I’m not alone in say that I will miss Stella tremendously. Her impact on many of us has been great. 32 years is too short a life for her, but we know she can rest now.