STELLA Young commands an attentive audience as she urges society to treat women with disabilities with the respect they deserve.
Sometimes it’s through comedy, other times through startling statistics showing one in five will experience sexual assault and one in 30 will experience violence.
She’s not held back by the confines of political correctness.
Born with brittle bone disease and growing up in Stawell, she didn’t have wide contact with other women in her situation until introduced to a wider community in Melbourne as a teenager.
That lit a spark that spread into a fiery passion to make a difference in the world.
Ms Young is now a sought-after public speaker, stand-up comedian, journalist and activist with various disability groups.
She recently returned from a leadership program with the US State Department where she met President Obama’s human rights adviser.
Yesterday she was the keynote speaker in Warrnambool at an inaugural forum to look at ways of preventing violence against women with disabilities.
“I’ve come out of the closet and proudly identify with being disabled,” she said.
“There are two million women in Australian with disabilities — they face multiple forms of discrimination. They experience more violence than disabled men and are at greater risk.
“Almost half live near or below the poverty line, are more likely to be single parents than men and are more likely to undergo compulsory sterilisation.”
Ms Young said the answer lay in improving community attitudes and harnessing anger within the disability community.
“Our taxes are paying for facilities and services we can’t access. I hope the momentum is changing.”
More than 100 representatives from community organisations, local government, the disability sector and domestic violence agencies were challenged to improve their performance and reduce alarming incidents covered up for too long.
Forum organiser and South West Carer and Respite Services Network co-ordinator Wendy Jones said the violence could be ignored no longer.
“We know there is horrifying violence against women with disabilities in places where they live, in their communities.
“People need to feel safe to report or disclose abuse.”