"I DON’T THINK I’M INSPIRATIONAL BUT I DO ENJOY CHALLENGES. I ENJOY CHALLENGING PEOPLE’S EXPECTATIONS. AND I ENJOY SEEING PEOPLE’S REACTIONS. BUT PEOPLE CLOSE TO ME ARE USED TO THINGS. USED TO ME, JUST BEING ME. SOMETIMES EARLY ON IN THE FRIENDSHIP, MY FRIENDS WOULD SOMETIMES FORGET TO CHECK SOMEWHERE WAS ACCESSIBLE BECAUSE THEY SEE PAST MY DISABILITY AND DON’T LET IT DEFINE ME. I TOOK THAT AS A COMPLIMENT!"
Meet Kellie, 32, born and bred in Brisbane, a qualified psychologist, lover of live music, and recently married (Australia Day 2020!) to her adoring husband, Brad.
Kellie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) shortly after birth which meant she had a lot of surgeries when she was young for things like tendon release for tight Achilles tendons, but was never one to let it slow her down. She got her first job while she was still in high school, working at a Pizza Hut call centre. And though she says it was a good job, before long it became boring. She then studied psychology at Griffith University and received a bachelor degree with honours before completing a supervised internship at Lifeline and receiving her accreditation as a psychologist.
Three years ago, Kellie was offered the role she has today as a full-time psychologist in a disability support and advocacy organisation. She loves it there and receives fantastic feedback from her clients.
“I BELIEVE I CAN GIVE A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE TO THE CLIENTS THERE THAT HAVE A DISABILITY AS THEY CAN SEE THAT I HAVE ONE MYSELF," SAYS KELLIE, "THAT HELPS SOME PEOPLE”.
When she's not working, Kellie loves attending live concerts and shows (Queen, Bon Jovi, Michael Bublé, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Elton John... the list goes on!) "My mum calls me a concert tart! But I’m not a festival goer. I often wonder just how accessible festivals are anyway." She also tries to do as much as possible with Brad, and while things like hiking might not be possible, they love being adventurous and are looking to start a family soon. "And obviously I’ll get advice on some practical assistance and equipment for that."
While CP is referred to as spastic quadriplegia, Kellie is not a quadriplegic, but it affects all four of her limbs. She explains to us that it means you experience muscle tightness and depletion in muscle tone (physical not visual) which impacts your balance, reduces your range of movement and causes a lot of muscle tightness in your shoulders and knees. Her hips and hamstrings are also often very tight. Kellie says she’s been quite lucky as it's not affected her voice or intellectual ability, although people sometimes make that assumption she is intellectually disabled because of her physical disability.
Kellie is very pragmatic about her condition and enjoys the challenges life brings. "I usually walk with a walking stick at home or use a trolley to help carry things like food and coffee around the house. I have a mobility scooter that I use outside the home (long distances, shopping, carrying stuff) and that I can take in my vehicle. I do have a manual wheelchair also but I don’t use that much."
While Kellie finds that most people mean well and don't tend to bother her, she does think the word ‘inspiration’ is over-used, particularly in the media. "You know, just because I got out of bed or I drove myself to the shops… it’s not a big deal for me. I don’t think it’s necessary all the time. I can find it patronising. Have you heard of what Stella Young calls ‘inspiration porn?”
Another area of frustration is around a lack of public accessibility because of a lack of thought. For example, having an "accessible" toilet that is the size of a shoe box or an accessible toilet with rails (which is fantastic) but with a big heavy door.
"When we were going on our honeymoon, we wanted to go on a cruise so we decided to book a suite. The only wheelchair accessible suit they had was a mini suite - which would have been fine - but it was a room with two single beds bolted to the floor. So there was this assumption that people with disabilities are not in couples, don’t go on honeymoons, wouldn’t like a bigger joined bed. When we asked why one of the larger, nicer suites was not wheelchair accessible the response was, 'well, that’s just the ship’s design'. So we refused to go with them and I provided them with my feedback."
Kellie is really happy to see a growing movement for adaptive and inclusive fashion and even more excited to see progress in Australia as it's typically been harder to find here. She's found that items that may seem accessible (like having a zip on the back) can still be very difficult.
"CLOTHING IS DEFINITELY A NEGLECTED AREA. MAGNETIC CLOSURES, STUD BUTTONS, VELCRO ARE ALL FANTASTIC – THE EASIER THE BETTER. ANYTHING THAT FASTENS AT THE BACK IS THE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE. I CANNOT FULLY PUT IT ON AND I NEED ASSISTANCE. IT CAN BE VERY IRRITATING."
She'd also like to see options with better modesty at the back for when she's transferring from her chair to her trolley. That and reducing the time it takes to get ready. "Of course, some days I get frustrated. I’d love to have a quick shower and take 5 minutes to get dressed! If you have to wear something nice for work it can take a while. Depending on what I’m wearing, including a shower, drying, dressing and shoes, it can take 45 minutes to 1 hour. Even longer with our hot and sticky climate… but of course, no one can help the weather!"
Kellie currently shops both online and in store, but online can be tricky as she shops the petite line which means the sizing can be harder to predict. When shopping in store, change rooms make for an unpleasant experience. Between the size of the room, the facilities inside it and the pressure to not stay in there too long means she usually just buys clothing to try on at home and then return if they don't work.
When asked what fashion means to her, Kellie says, "Expressing yourself, being an individual, having nice up to date clothes like everyone else. I do have thing for sparkles and patterns… elegant, sparkly and a bit feminine. I love building a collection of clothes. Just to be able to support a local business that has an interest in making clothing more accessible. There’s not a lot of that happening in Australia.”
Fabulous women like Kellie are why we created Christina Stephens and the Unique Women Unique Stories series. Our vision is to provide women living with disabilities and changing bodies with a ‘choice’. A choice in fashion, a choice to be included and a choice to be heard. By shopping with us or even simply sharing our story, you're helping us get another step closer to achieving this. Thank you.