Hannah Diviney: Why Disney needs a disabled princess
This week Peta talks to disability advocate Hannah Diviney. As a fellow woman with Cerebral Palsy, Peta better understands what it like for a young person with a disability in 2022.
You can sign the petition for Disney to create a disabled princess here
Connect with Hannah:
You can ask Peta a question for a future episode of the podcast via:
The website: www.icantstandpodcast.com
Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast answering your questions about what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta and I'm your host. I have cerebral palsy and I love to answer your questions. My guest today has a very big goal for herself. She's currently petitioning Disney, as in Walt Disney, to create a disabled princess. When I read that, I knew I needed to speak with her. So without any further ado, could you please introduce yourself?
Hannah [00:00:55] Hi, my name is Hannah Devaney. I also have cerebral palsy like Peta, and I'm a writer and disability advocate.
Peta [00:01:03] So you said that you consider yourself as a disability advocate? Has that been something natural to you or is that something that you've sort of fallen into over time?
Hannah [00:01:16] My parents and my family have always instilled in me the benefit of being able to give back, if you can. So when I was much younger, we used to do a lot of charity work for Cerebral Palsy Alliance, which for anyone who doesn't know is like the major charity, an organisation that helps people with cerebral palsy, mainly here in New South Wales.
Hannah [00:01:40] But yeah, I think in terms of accepting the label of disability advocate and really stepping into what that means and like making noise on social media and all of that, that's definitely been more of a gradual process. For quite a while there, I resisted the idea of being a disability, ah, I think because. I was struggling just to keep my head above water, and I couldn't possibly fathom having enough space in terms of my energy or all that kind of stuff to worry about anyone else or to advocate for anyone else. Advocacy is a choice. It's not for everybody. It doesn't have to be what you do. It doesn't have to be how you live your life as a disabled person. But to me personally, it kind of really hit home in the last few years that I have a voice. When I was initially diagnosed with CP, the kind of worst case scenario that they gave my parents was that I would never walk, talk or feed myself based on the kind of level of brain damage that I had. And obviously. Because we're having this conversation, we know that that scenario didn't come to pass.
Hannah [00:03:10] So I kind of take the literal privilege of being able to articulate myself and having a voice very seriously, and I kind of decided that I feel like I have a responsibility to use my voice. And then I've started using it. And once you start using it, well, you can't stop them. So.
Peta [00:03:33] This is true, and I think, you know, both of us have cerebral palsy, but just listening to you then, we have very similar perspectives. And also when I was first diagnosed, my parents were told I'd never be able to write my own name knowing that we have that privilege of having cerebral palsy. I think it just at least to me, pushes me forward to use what I've been given.
Hannah [00:04:00] Yeah, and I think. It doesn't mean that there aren't parts of having cerebral palsy that aren't awful and hard and exhausting. It doesn't mean that everything is kind of viewed through this rosy lens of gratitude necessarily, but it's just being aware that like, OK, this is what I've got to work with. I kind of owe it to myself and to everybody else to break down some barriers and see if we can make the world better.
Peta [00:04:34] And as far as feeling comfortable in your identity, has cerebral palsy always felt a part of you or is it being separate at times? How how's that process been like for you as a young woman?
Hannah [00:04:47] I've kind of gone through lots of stages, it's been a very bumpy sort of rollercoaster in terms of my identity as a disabled person. I mean, obviously and you're your audience can't see, but I'm sitting in a wheelchair right now. So my experience of disability has always been very sort of in-your-face. It's very visually apparent, pretty much the first thing people notice when they meet me is obviously that I'm in a wheelchair and I think I was I was I was three when I first kind of clicked that like, oh, something is different. And I remember having this experience of watching my best friend from day-care at the time stand up from the lunch table after we'd finished to go and play. And I remember watching her and thinking, Oh, well, I'm done to. I want to go play. And. I sort of told my body to, you know, stand up and follow her and do all of that stuff and then got really confused when nothing happened.
Hannah [00:06:01] For a long time, I spent a lot of energy kind of, I guess. Hating myself? If yeah, no, I would say hating myself and like being very. Kind of upset that this particular. Kind of circumstance had been dealt, and there's no like rhyme or reason why happened to you and not the baby who was in the hospital next to you. So I really struggle with that. And I think the other thing that I really struggled with as a young kid was the concept of having it for life. For me, I also have two. Able-Bodied sisters who are both younger than me and were always super sporty and. Constantly active and like very social and found it easy to make friends and all of the things that I sort of wanted to have but really struggle with. Like the amount of times that I would be told all we wanted to invite you somewhere, but like stairs or we weren't sure about the bathroom or whatever it might be. And that kind of continued. All the way through high school, really.
Hannah [00:07:30] So to be in this position now where people are listening to me and inviting me on to things and really want my my opinions and want me to take up space is a bit of a kind of lag between what? I'm doing now and how I think of myself still like I have to kind of catch up and remind myself that like, Oh, it's OK if my perception of me changes with the times.
Peta [00:08:01] I'm a lot older than you, Hannah, but sitting here now, I can say that it only gets easier. I particularly the hardest I found was when people were starting to go out clubbing, now Covid might be a disguised blessing in that way that your social group might not be clubbing in the way my social group was. It just it was completely inaccessible, so I found that often in my early 20s was sort of. The biggest difference between myself and my friends. But as soon as I got to university, I myself really started to feel into my own identity and I can see that in you.
Hannah [00:08:45] Yeah, I think it's it's definitely starting to happen to me, and I want to also point out that like I wouldn't be in the place that I am in without like lots of therapy. Yeah, and but both psychologically and other forms of therapy, like our team physio, conductive education, all those sorts of things. I'm really lucky to have access to those. In terms of my experience in my early 20s so far, it's been very different to what I thought just because of the pandemic. I think there's a lot of socialisation that we're all missing out on and like I did the last two years of my university degree online, which really made it quite tricky in terms of like connecting and making friends. But it also had this really interesting. Thing where because you can only see someone's head and shoulders on Zoom. Nobody knew that I was in a wheelchair. Nobody knew that I was disabled unless I chose to disclose it. And I've never had that choice before, so that was a really kind of strange thing for my brain to be like, Oh. I don't have to tell them if I don't want to.
Peta [00:10:04] What are you doing with Disney? How did you start it? But can you just explain to the audience what you're doing and why you're doing it?
Hannah [00:10:13] Sure thing. So I have been for the last year petitioning for Disney to create a disabled Disney princess. And the reason I went specifically with the Disney princess is purely strategic because we all know that they're the characters that end up on the bedspreads and the lunchboxes and the toys and the books and the birthday parties and on and on. So I kind of wanted to create this character that could have maximum exposure. I guess if you like like maximum impact to sort of show kids that disability isn't something to be afraid of. To give the disabled kids watching a chance to see someone who looks like them be the hero of the year and adventures when just sort of, you know, live a life that is full of possibility and magic and all and all of those things.
Hannah [00:11:12] It actually started all the way back in 2015. I went to see the Pixar film Inside Out, which, if you haven't seen it, is a beautiful, nuanced film about mental health and mental illness, which are incredibly like high concept ideas for a kids movie. And I remember thinking, well, if they have managed to like so this idea of a movie about mental illness and emotional intelligence and all that stuff for kids, then maybe it's not. So much of a leap any more to consider creating a disabled character. So I wrote Disney an open letter published online. Nothing happened because, as I've learnt over the last year, especially trying to get their attention and trying to get in a room with them is like trying to get into Fort Knox.
Hannah [00:12:12] All of this like comes from a place as a kid where I never saw anyone who looked like me in the TV, I watched the movies, the books I read, the games I played, there was nobody. It wasn't until I was 10 that I saw my first kind of character in a wheelchair. That was Artie Abrams from the musical series Glee. Is this character an actor who you know, you sings, he does, he's in a wheelchair. They they address it, but like he's a full person and all of this stuff. And then I think it was like in the second season, maybe there was a dance sequence that he was dreaming about and he got up out of his wheelchair and started dancing. And I remember being like. So he's not he's not like me at all. He can kind of cast off my life experience like a costume. When the director yells Cut. So yeah, that's where the Disney. Thing comes from it's got over seven thousand signatures, which is bonkers. We are now trying to work out ways of kind of. Developing the concept for the film and the world and the characters so that once we get through the door to Disney, a lot of the legwork, so to speak, is already done.
Peta [00:13:47] Yeah. And so how can the audience listening now help you create that disabled Disney character?
Hannah [00:13:57] If you Google disabled Disney Princess petition, so you can always go and sign the petition or just come and follow me on my social media, which I'm sure Peta will put in, the show notes.
Peta [00:14:13] Of course.
Hannah [00:14:15] And yeah, just kind of follow along. Start having those conversations around your dinner table, if you can, about why representation is important. Think about the ways. In which you've possibly been represented or not, depending on who you are when you're listening to this.
Peta [00:14:37] And if you're a parent or your auntie or you're an uncle or you have kids in your life, maybe if I can be so bold, maybe contact Hannah and get there. Get your kids in your life to suggest Hannah some ideas.
Hannah [00:14:51] I would love that. Please fill my DMs with all the ideas you can think of, guys.
Peta [00:15:00] I think it would be really interesting for me as an older millennial to understand what you think the disability community needs to do or how the non-disabled need to better support disabled people to make sure we gain equality. How could we be more effective in how we campaign and make people better understand?
Hannah [00:15:28] Well, I think the visibility is huge, and obviously in the last few years we've made some excellent progress because we have really high profile disability advocates here in Australia. We've got like Dylan Alcott, Kurt Fernley, Carly Findlay and so many others who are absolutely smashing it out of the park. The other thing, I think for able bodied people with platforms to normalise sharing the voices or content of disabled people, it's just about giving people with disabilities opportunities to. Be in the room, but in a really meaningful way where they're given power and agency and all of those things.
Hannah [00:16:25] So I often tell people that like the only two narratives that I was really able to internalise as a young person was either Paralympic success or. On the complete opposite end of the emotional spectrum, those who had come. Into the disability by way of some sort of tragic consequence, like drunk driving or speeding or whatever. And obviously for those particular people, they very much felt like their lives were over because of what had happened to them. And I often say, what sort of message does that send to the person who is, you know? Trying to grow up and trying to figure out her, his or her life. If. Someone's telling you that the life you're living in the body you're living in is over or has lost value, or is it, you know, fundamentally broken or whatever else before you've even had a chance to like, become a person yet? I love the Paralympics. I love what Paralympic athletes do, I think anyone who goes to the Paralympics is amazing, but I was also the kid who grew up constantly being asked some variation of the question What's your Paralympic sport going to be?
Hannah [00:17:53] And it's like, well, on the one hand, sip it, if we're flattered that you think that I'm capable of that. But on the other hand, it's not something that every. You know, able-bodied or disabled person is going to be capable of like, what if they want to be a teacher? What if they want to be a doctor? What if they want to be a chef? I just think the normalisation of disabled people in everyday society would help a lot.
Peta [00:18:26] What do you love about having a disability? Hannah?
Hannah [00:18:30] That's a really interesting question. And I think if you had asked me that. A few years ago, I wouldn't have been able to answer you, I probably would have turned around and said nothing because I was really struggling with know self-worth and all of those things. But I think. I love the way. That I look at the world. And I love the way. That I am. More aware of and grateful to my body for being able to do things. There are, I know for sure, other people take for granted, like even the fact that I can roll myself over in bed if I want to change position during the night, that's something I know that like not everybody can do. Perspective. Gratitude, community creativity is another one, because obviously when the world isn't built for a body like mine, you have to get a little bit creative and think. Quite literally sometimes, and I think also we have this. I don't know if it's a fearlessness or just like a. A general refusal to like. Excuse the pun. Sit down and kind of take take things, if that makes sense. Like. There can be some people sometimes who are a little bit put off by how political or how willing I am personally to engage in like discourse or call people out or do that sort of thing. And I often feel like I have to say if I sit back and watch the world go by. Then I'm just going to be stuck on the margins of it forever. And that's not that's not where I deserve to be. Sometimes I have to, you know, say things on Twitter that get people fired up or have conversations that are awkward and uncomfortable with people about like, Hey, do you think you could maybe stop using that word or you could stop putting image descriptions at the bottom of your Instagrams or whatever it might be?
Peta [00:20:52] And is there anything you don't like about having your disability?
Hannah [00:20:57] Sometimes it gets exhausting. In like not just a physical sense, but also in the. Like relentlessness of this in this in terms of like. Constantly having to. Justify why you deserve to be heard or deserve to be taken seriously or all of that kind of thing, or just like sort of banging your head against a wall in frustration because you don't you get it already? Even the ways in which, you know, disabled people have been. Offering a lot of very practical, very meaningful strategy on this, on the agenda on the pandemic, and it's often been ignored or sidelined, so many of us are putting the work in and sometimes it can just feel like pushing a boulder up a hill.
Peta [00:21:55] It constantly smashing my head against a brick wall. I feel you. Lastly, what do you hope it would be like to have a disability in Australia in the future?
Hannah [00:22:08] I hope it's not really a big deal. But I hope that we get to a point where. If they want to be. A teacher, they can be a teacher if they want to be an astronaut, they can be an astronaut. We don't have to keep having conversations about accessibility or emotional labour or. I mean, it's not all going to be going to be fixed in the future, but I'd like to get to a point where we don't have to fight so hard to make people. See and understand I'd like it if society at large would come to a little bit more of that awareness and understanding on their own, more naturally.
Peta [00:22:55] I'm totally with you, and what a great way to end such a great chat. Thank you so much for Benji and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Hannah [00:23:03] Thank you so much for having me. I love this. This is a great conversation.
Peta [00:23:10] Thank you so much for listening to my chat with Hannah. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, can I encourage you to leave a rating and review? If you listen on Apple Podcasts or if you listen on another podcasting platform, please share it with a friend or on social media. It all helps more people understand what it's really like to live with a disability, and just to add one more thing if you have any ideas of how we can improve International Day for people with disabilities this year, I'm all ears. OK, guys have a good one and two next week. By.