This weekend, the disability rights activist and writer Stella Young died unexpectedly, reports the BBC. She was just 32. Young worked to puncture cultural stereotypes we may not even know we have regarding people with disabilities, and she particularly hated certain memes popular on social media. You’ve seen these: It’s a photo of a person with a visible disability paired with a caption like, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”
This, she argued in a TED Talk this spring, is not only irritatingly saccharine; it’s simply untrue:
And that quote, The only disability in life is a bad attitude, the reason that’s bullshit is because it’s just not true, because of the social model of disability. You know, no amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. Never. Smiling at a television screen isn’t going to make closed captions appear for people who are deaf. No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshop and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into Braille. It’s just not going to happen.
Living with a disability can be difficult, in other words, but often not because of the diagnosis itself; it’s sometimes the inaccessible way the world is set up that makes it harder than it needs to be. Watch more of Young’s funny, powerful talk — titled “I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much” — here. It wasn’t Young’s disability that made her exceptional: It was her ideas.