Main Navigation

"It's only when someone treats me like I'm disabled that I feel it"

Isabel Stankiewicz is the beating heart of the Jeays Street community centre which Red Cross runs in inner-city Brisbane.

With her infectious laugh and welcoming style, she encourages an accepting environment for the wide range of people who drop in to enjoy everything from creative writing classes to yoga in the community garden. Isabel is one of our new Disability Champions, promoting inclusivity across Red Cross.

"When I was born I wasn't given a diagnosis. I actually found out I had a rare congenital disease when I was 15. It's not like my parents sat me down and said, 'This is the disability; this is what it means; this is what you should do'.

"They were really clever.

"Growing up I knew there was something a bit different about me. When you start high school and you start asking those big questions - 'Who am I? Why am I the way I am?' - that's how I got the diagnosis. We went to multiple specialists and I got the name. My question was 'What can you do?', and they said, 'Nothing.'

Isabel says the moment she learnt there was nothing that could be done to cure it she stopped worrying about it.

"It's really only when somebody treats me like I have a disability that I feel like I have one. Otherwise I consider myself to be completely normal in every way.

"I've really only started identifying as having a disability in the last five years because I'm really passionate about it. There was an element of shame about it but I'm over that. I'm happy to own it now - I'm happy being me.

"I saw this [video] clip with (the late disability advocate) Stella Young. She talks about how we're being sold this lie - that disability is a bad thing, and to live with a disability makes you exceptional.

"But for us it's just everyday normality. It's a mindset you don't even notice."

Isabel says no one is perfect and every one of us has aspects that can be challenging.

"Disability is a spectrum and everybody's on it. I see the disability in everyone."

Twelve Red Cross Disability Inclusion Champions have been appointed at Red Cross to raise awareness of inclusive behaviours and support our people with disability. Red Cross wants to be an inclusive, supportive and aware organisation that draws on the talents and skills of people of all abilities as well as ensuring access and responsiveness of our services to people with disability.

For more information contact Ian Coverdale at