Friday, 9 January 2015

Access All Areas: Stella Young

International Access Symbol (white wheelchair symbol on a blue background) created with crochet by Jodiebodie using a freeform technique to create the shapes and finished with a white crab stitch border.
International Access Symbol
crocheted by Jodie

Australians are mourning the loss of a most remarkable woman, Stella Young, a passionate disability advocate, activist, knitter and blogger who died suddenly in December 2014.

To say that her influence was significant is an understatement and Australia (and the world) is poorer for her loss. If you don't know who Stella Young is (and I mean 'is' as her legacy lives on), you must read at least one of these articles to discover how clever, funny, witty, strong and passionate and colourful  she was (in clothes and language but don't let that dissuade you) about the rights of people with disabilities and more...

Stella Young was Editor of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Ramp Up–Disability, Discussion, Debate website. If you haven't already, please visit Ramp Up to introduce yourself to the disability issues of the day and to challenge your thinking about disability.

Craig Wallace, the President of People with Disability Australia, was also involved with the development of Ramp Up and worked with Stella on many articles. He has given his personal reflection of Stella in his article:

Sadly, Ramp Up's funding was cut during 2014. It is such a shame that Ramp Up was closed due to lack of funding - disability advocacy is such important work and voices of disabled people (previously stifled for many years) need to be heard on a national platform like the ABC. Shame on you Auntie ABC. Shame on you, government bean counters. The news of Ramp Up's closure left me with a heavy heart, but not as heavy as the thought of a world without Stella Young leading the way as only she could.

Stella Young lobbied for, and was involved in, the development of a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). After her death the Chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency published this statement:

A section of the "Rhythm Sculpture" yarn bomb project which is described in the blog post "Stitch For Summer: A Colourful Rhythm" posted on 23 February 2013. This photograph shows a patchwork of knitted mitred squares in solid colours, one of which has a red flower with a yellow centre appliquéd ont it.  The patchwork is flanked by blanket sized multicoloured granny squares, one of which has a blue patch appliquéd on it. These crochet fabrics cover an arch-shaped section of an outdoor sculpture.
Knitted and crocheted shapes stitched together to yarn bomb a public sculpture.
Shapes include sections of large single-granny square blankets with different colours for each round
and a patchwork of  knitted mitred squares.
A solidly crocheted flower and lacy crocheted square are stitched on as embellishments.

A Misguided Tribute?

Many people are making tributes to Stella Young in their own ways. Some knitters decided to pay tribute with a yarnbomb because Stella Young was also a knitter. I am sure a keen knitter like Stella would be enthusiastic about doing something as funky, colourful and creative as a yarnbomb, but I am concerned that the activity might be a little misguided.  The event that they devised, to be held on 20 December 2014, was "Yarn bomb a wheelchair ramp for Stella" to "to knit (or crochet) a little yarn bomb to be placed on a wheelchair ramp near you, in her honour."  Can you think of any problems with this idea?

It's great that they are organising a tribute for Stella Young that involves knitting but participants need to know that by yarnbombing wheelchair ramps, handrails, etc. they would be doing the opposite of what Stella would want - making these access devices useless for those of us with disabilities. This fact was not mentioned anywhere on the event description that I could find.

Yarnbombing a handrail means that people cannot get a grip on the handrail and for those of us that need it, we hold those rails for our dear lives.  Putting yarn on a ramp will upset the traction for wheelchairs and walkers, the yarn threads have potential to catch between small castors and on people's feet. We use mobility devices because we are not stable and do not need to trip on yarn under our feet!

People with visual impairments and difficulties with depth perception will have trouble with a different texture under their feet. If the railings are yarnbombed in the wrong colours, the visibility of these important pieces of urban safety equipment will be changed and it may become very dangerous for many people.

Not to mention the unpleasantness of dripping wet yarn after a rain shower. Yarn gets heavy when wet and can stretch out of shape and take a long time to dry.  Who wants to have soggy yarn against them? Not ideal for a handrail.

So while I am sure these yarnbombers' hearts are in the right place, maybe they should vary their compaign to use knitting in a different way...let's yarn bomb the offices of the policy makers who are too slow to instigate change or too deaf to hear the voices of those with disability! Make a 'blanket' call to action! hehehe
Close up of a blanket-sized granny square in blue, yellow and red.  The pattern repeat is three rounds of blue, one of yellow, one of red, one of yellow, (start again) three rows of blue etc.
Single-granny square blanket in blue with yellow contrast and red accent stripes.
I shared these thoughts with the event organiser who explained that the intention was "not about covering every surface, but leaving a small momento in a place that is visible but also safe." The organiser argued that the issues raised "could also be accusations made of people leaving flowers in the street."

The difference between flowers on the street and yarnbombing an access ramp is that the occasional obstacle on a busy street is inevitable for both disabled and able-bodied people but obstacles on an access ramp–not acceptable! 

A single bunch of flowers stands no chance against an electric wheelchair or mobility scooter and is pushed out the way relatively easily if necessary, preferably before one has tripped over it! On the other hand, a yarn bomb permanently attached to an access fixture with sewing and knots is not so easily removed (unless one is carrying scissors or thread cutters).

When trying to use an access ramp, to have one's progress impeded by something as preventable and unnecessary as yarn or any other obstruction is hurtful to the person using the ramp and shameful on the part of the person(s) who caused the obstruction. It prompts the feeling of exclusion that I mentioned in Access All Areas: Online Too. Obstructions on access ramps give the message "You are not welcome here."

Close up of colourful skeins of silk mohair. The skeins are arranged side-by-side in a diagonal direction. Each skein is hand dyed with variegated colours. There are too many shades to describe each one. The main hues from left to right are: brown, blue-green, purple-plum, red-pink-orange, violet-indigo, greens, red, orange etc.
Colourful skeins of silk mohair in a row:
brown, blue-green, purple-plum, red-pink-orange, violet-indigo, greens, red, orange etc.

I love crochet, knitting and yarn crafts. (You may have noticed! [tongue in cheek]) I enjoy a good yarn bombing  as much as the next yarncrafter, (have a look at Stitch for Summer: A Colourful Rhythm) but we have to be mindful that our bit of fun, artistic statement or tribute does not inadvertently create bad consequences.

Next time you see a door handle*, hand rail or wheelchair ramp yarnbombed (or any other urban equipment), consider the utility of that equipment in the built environment, think of Stella Young, and take action to remove these barriers to access that people with disabilities face every day.

Most of the time people (like these yarnbombers) don't mean to put up barriers; many able-bodied people simply don't recognise the barriers for people with disabilities. How can they if they don't live it? Often it is because they have no knowledge or experience with disability so it is important to educate and point out these disability access issues to well-meaning supporters.

Please do your part to make our communities truly inclusive and accessible for all whether they are visually impaired, deaf, autistic, users of wheelchairs or other mobility aids, living with mental illness, male or female, bi- or heterosexual, transgender, gay, lesbian, tall or short, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or of any other religious persuasion, Australian, American, European, African or Asian, old or young etc.

That is what Stella Young would have wanted.

Close up of  tricot (Tunisian) stitches worked in vertical stripes of colours. The stripes from left to right are: blue using purl stitch, then yellow, orange, pink and violet worked in simple stitch.
Stripes of rainbow colours in tricot stitches: (in purl) blue, (and simple stitches) yellow, orange, pink and violet.

  • Stella Young's Memorial Service was held in Melbourne and broadcast live on ABC News 24  and the live stream video is available to watch on ABC's iView service (thank you, ABC).  I am not sure how long it will be available on iView. In my opinion the messages conveyed within the memorial service are so important that they ought to remain available online for years to come. (Are you reading this, Auntie?)
  • Stella is listed in Daily Life's Women of the Year 2014 at No. 2.  All of the women in this list are amazing and doing valuable work. If your daughters are seeking inspiration, show them this list.

I am looking forward to seeing the new wave of people who will seize Stella Young's passion and enthusiasm for human rights and lead the world.

* It has been claimed that the current yarn bombing trend began with a door handle in 2005 when artist Magda Sayeg created a blue-and-pink yarn cozy for her boutique's door handle in Houston, Texas, USA.


ABC, Ramp Up–Disability, Discussion, Debate, website, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2011–2014:

ABC iView, "Stella Young Memorial", live stream video, 19 December 2014, [accessed 22 December 2014], ABC News, Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Bonyhady,Bruce AM, "Statement by Bruce Bonyhady: Stella Young", December 2014, National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA),

Carbonelli, Rachel, "Much Loved Disabilty Activist Stella Young Dies Suddenly at Age 32", radio/online article, The World Today, ABC News Radio, 8 December 2014, Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Daily Life, "Daily Life's Women of the Year 2014: the full list" photo gallery, 18 December 2014,

Dunn, Matthew, "The Ups and Downs of Ramps and Stairs", originally published in Voiceworks magazine, <> Issue 92; republished on Crochet Between Worlds blog, 20 January 2015:

Liddy, Matthew, "17 Things Stella Young Wanted You to Know" ABC News, 8 December 2014, Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Palenzuela, Karen, "Questioning Assumptions on Disability", online article (includes transcript of Stella Young's TEDxSydney talk, ABC Ramp Up, 2 May 2014, Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

People with Disability Australia (PWDA):

Sayeg, Magda, Magda Sayeg, web site:

TEDxSydney, "Stella Young", live stream, 26 April 2014,

Tinkler, Jacquie, "Yarn Bomb a Wheelchair Ramp for Stella" online event,

Wallace, Craig, "Stella Forever", Starecase [online magazine],,  Issue 6, December 2014, p. 41:

Wollan, Malia, "Graffiti's Cozy, Feminine Side", The New York Times, 18 May 2011:

Young, Stella, "Stella Young's Letter to Herself at 80 Years Old", Sydney Morning Herald, newspaper article, November 2014, reprinted December 2014 [this is an edited extract from Between Us: Words and wisdom from Women of Letters, curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire. (Viking, $29.99.)], :

Related Posts on Lupey Loops

"Access All Areas: Online Too", 12 December 2014:

"Stitch for Summer: A Colourful Rhythm", 23 February 2013:


  1. Hi Jodie!
    Great post, thanks for sharing!
    Ingrid xx

    1. I don't know whether Stella Young's name is familiar to Belgians, but I hope you will have a look at her TEDx Sydney talk to get an idea of what she was about. (about to do a world tour!) So sad.

  2. Hear hear! I did not know Stella personally but know a number of people who do - she touched a lot of peoples' lives with her disability activism and her refusal to "play nice". A fitting tribute, and thank you for calling out the impracticality of the proposed tribute!

    A very good friend of mine wrote a great article about his experiences the first time he pushed me around Melbourne in a wheelchair. The experience really opened his eyes to how disability-unfriendly our public spaces really are. I will see if I can track down an online copy for you!

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I did not know Stella personally either. I remember first seeing her on Channel 44 (community tv here, but I think it was Channel 31 in Melbourne perhaps?) and she had the star quality from the very first moment. I remember feeling at the time "It's about time these issues were aired!"

      I did not realise that you were a wheelchair user as well. I would be very interested to read your friend's article. Can you remember what it was called and where it was published?

      The last time I was in Melbourne, it was for a conference. I was able-bodied and assisting two friends who were wheelchair users and that was quite an adventure. Now the tables have turned!

      I do hope your friend wouldn't mind sharing his article as it would be a good discussion point.
      Thanks for your contribution, Michelle and I hope you are well. :-)

    2. I am only an irregular wheelchair user - for shopping trips, our annual gallivant to Melbourne etc - I dislike it, and only use it when I really need to save all my energy for other things and not spend it on boring things like walking.

      The article was published in Voiceworks magazine, not entirely sure which issue. I have a word copy of the submitted article which I can email to you, if you like?

      I'm waiting to hear back if he will let me republish it somewhere on the web as well.

    3. It is nice to meet another wheelchair user and you are lucky that you only need it irregularly so that you can better maintain mobility and fitness in between.

      I use my chair daily: for outings that involve long distances, lengthy durations, extra exertion, outdoors in the weather etc. as all these things affect me.

      I have a small 'window' of energy in the mornings but by mid-late afternoon or evening, depending on the demands of the day, I usually collapse into my chair (or bed). I also use a 'wheelie walker' (I think the official term is 'rollater'?) for quick visits or short distances or a 'traymobile' around the house.

      Luckily, as long as I am not too fatigued, I have some mobility but I have to ration my energy.

      Why do you dislike your chair? Please don't misunderstand my question, I mean, no one wakes up in the morning and says "one day I want to be a wheelchair user" so I don't expect anyone to be pleased about it but I am interested to know which aspects you particularly dislike.

      My chair was a revelation - my ticket out of the house - allowing me to reclaim a level of freedom and independence from my stupid illness. It gave me some life back.

      I have never heard of Voiceworks before - - is this the one? It would be great if we could find it on a link somewhere. I suppose it depends on who owns the copyright - your friend or the magazine. I am keen to read the article now. I am interested to know what the author's perceptions were before and after the Melbourne adventure.

      May this reply find you on a happy, wheelchair-free day! Hugs!

    4. Dear Michelle,

      Thank you for chasing up your friend's article called "The Ups and Downs of Ramps and Stairs" by Matthew Dunn and for republishing it on Crochet Between Worlds:
      It is sensitively written yet still highlights the basic access problems in our built environs.
      I hope that everybody reads it, both those with disability and those without, and that they think carefully about the issues raised as we can all play a part in effecting change.

      I will put a link in the reference list of this blog article because I don't know how to put active links in a comment window. Thank you also for such a kind mention to Lupey Loops as well.

      Hugs, Jodie xxx

    5. Hi Jodie!

      It sounds like I have a bit more mobility and a bit less fatigue than you do (or maybe you just manage yours better and don't have the big dips and crashes :P ). I guess I'm lucky that I'm a complete homebody, so most days I don't leave the house, or I only go as far as the street for someone to collect me, or to the shops which are underneath our building and accessible by lift. Except for not going to work every day, this life is not tooooo far out of my comfort zone.

      My irks with the wheelchair are twofold. Firstly it is a loss of control. I don't have an electric wheelchair, just a manual one, and so someone pushes me around and decides which direction I go and where I look. I also get no joy from adrenalin rushes so the occasional sudden halt from bumping an unexpected obstacle or pothole, or feeling like I'm going to tip over, freaks me out rather than being able to pretend it's a roller coaster or something. I'm a merry-go-round kind of girl! Secondly, it's a real physical manifestation that I'm not strong and independent, and I dislike that feeling very much. I guess that's a control thing too, but at home I can sort of pretend that everything is fine and I am just lazy.

      You have the right website for Voiceworks! They only do print copies of their magazine by subscription, it's not online anywhere sadly. Matthew owns the copyright for the article though (lawyer Mich checked the contract before republishing!).

      Mich :)

    6. I don't think it is fair to compare mobility, ability or disability. Each of us has our own challenges. I understand the control issues and that is an entire discussion subject of its own in relation to disability and chronic illness. I go from being able to push myself in my manual wheelchair (thank goodness I had good muscle mass in my arms to begin with after lost of lifting in my former life) but when the fatigue hits I can go right back to being a rag doll and it hits one like a brick. Crazy! I can't handle sudden stops, bumps, crashes or loud noises either - hypoadrenalism means these sorts of shocks can affect me badly. I am sure it is similar with cfs. Chronic fatigue is the most disabling of all my symptoms. I can work through pain and I can deal with limited mobility but that mind-numbing fog and weakness of fatigue just kills me. You say you are not strong and independent - maybe not in a physical sense but you definitely are in an intellectual sense.

  3. I was very sad to hear about the death of Stella Young. Your article highlights many important things most people don't think about/don't consider.

    Take care

    1. Stella Young's articles get right to the point and she can say it so efficiently and cut right through the nonsense. The list of important access issues that people don't think about is quite long. I do hope that the list will get shorter as awareness builds.
      Are you aware of any disability activist movements in Germany?
      I hope this message finds you well. :-)

  4. Some people just don't seem to think before they do something like this yarnbombing.

    1. That's the problem - not everybody thinks the same way. The organiser was thinking of a small item that is in a safe place, a very subjective stipulation.That wasn't listed on their event page though and I cannot really think of a safe place for yarn anywhere on or near any access ramp. The organisers need to realise that the term 'yarnbomb' has connotations of completely covering an item, hence the term 'bomb' (to look like yarn has exploded everywhere!). If you invite people to yarnbomb something, it is going to get covered by enthusiastic crafters!
      By discussing these issues amongst our crochet and knitting friends, we can raise awareness and prevent access problems caused by yarn.
      What sorts of yarnbombs have there been in your area Gillian, if any? Have you or your friends ever contemplated or participated in a yarn bomb?