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Changing perspectives starts with changing journalism (By Leslee Hall)

Changing perspectives starts with changing journalism (By Leslee Hall)

Broadcaster, comedian and disability campaigner Stella Young loves getting hate mail, as a teenager had ambitions of being a Play School presenter and advises all journalists to be braver when interviewing disabled people.

Above all, she has a desire for the media to reconsider the way it reports on, and represents, disability.

Stella, the editor of the ABC’s website Ramp Up, was the guest speaker at the 22nd Women in Media event on February 29. Women from the WA media industry gathered at the Telethon Institute for Child Research to hear a candid discussion between broadcaster and National Disability Insurance Scheme campaigner Geraldine Mellet and media commentator Stella Young.

Stella said disabled people were largely invisible to the broader community because the media, in all forms, rarely chose to represent disabled people as part of society.

“I want there to be a regular character on Neighbours who is a wheelchair user, or short-statured, or blind, where disability isn’t the central story line of everything they’re involved in,” she said. “I want someone who is a mother, or a wife, or who works at the coffee shop. Harold would employ them, he’s a nice guy.”

When the media did represent disability they often did it badly, she said.

Stella’s experiences, from childhood through to her work in the Australian media, are indicative of the way the media can get it wrong when reporting on disability.

“Kids like me weren’t on TV,” Stella said.

“My good friend George said that when he was growing up he thought he would either die or become able-bodied when he grew up because there were no adults like him on TV.”

“It taught me from an early age that disabled people weren’t as important as everyone else in the eyes of the media,” she said. “If they were portrayed, it was always for an emotional purpose.”