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  • Writer's picturePeta

Lisa Cox: From Coma to Catwalk

This chat was so great with Lisa Cox. She is such a resilient bubbly person.

If you want more of Lisa here is her socials:

The fashion brands Lisa spoke about

You can ask Peta a question via:

You can follow Peta on Instagram @petahooke


Episode transcript:

Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast. The podcast, answering your questions on what it's like to live with a disability. My name is Peta and I'm your host. I have cerebral palsy and I love to answer your questions. I also love talking to other disabled people about what it is like for them to live with a disability. This week, I have Lisa Cox on the podcast. She's a model and disability advocate based in Queensland, Australia. So without any further ado, let's get into it.

Peta [00:00:49] I have a very special guest that I'm very excited for you to get to know. My name is Lisa Cox. Lisa, thank you for coming on to The I Can't Stand Podcast. How are you today?

Lisa [00:01:00] Hello, I'm very well, thank you. And thanks for having me on.

Peta [00:01:04] If you don't know who Lisa is, she's a multi-award-winning writer, presenter and consultant based in Australia. She's also the author of two books, an advocate and an ambassador. Lisa, how would you describe yourself?

Lisa [00:01:21] Oh that sort of sums up, I guess I am, yeah, right, I mean, in Brisbane, Australia and yeah, acquired all of my disabilities when I was twenty-four. Lots, lots to tell you I guess Peta. There are so many facets to all this but the disability.

Peta [00:01:45] And I think that really is the case. I mean, just because we say we have a disability doesn't mean we're all the same because we are all very multifaceted, just like everyone else. And you're completely right. Disability affects everyone differently, but you do have such a fantastic outlook on life. Before we just get started, can we just talk about how you gained your disability just so people have a little bit of background because you weren't born with your disability? Were, you?

Lisa [00:02:15] No, I was not born with my disability, I acquired my twenty-four years old. So when I was twenty-four at Melbourne Airport one morning, flying home to see family and I had a stroke, a brain haemorrhage stroke caused the brain haemorrhage. I was in a coma for three weeks on life support for two months and in hospital for over a year. So that permanent brain injury caused all of my organs to shut down. And my left leg, all of my right toes and nine of my fingertips were amputated, I had heart surgery twice and in total hip replacement so that all of my visual disabilities and things you can see I have a prosthetic leg and a wheelchair full time now, but there are all of the invisible disabilities, which, as many people would know, far more challenging than all the things you can see. So I'm 20 per cent blind, don't drive anymore. I have epilepsy, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, peripheral neuropathy, a fancy word for pins and needles permanently on my right foot. What else, my memory is short, which is why I'm forgetting.

Peta [00:03:38] Well, it is Monday just to everyone a bit of clarity

Lisa [00:03:40] It's a Monday as well. So my memory is really, really, really bad. So, yeah, there are a few other things. I've got things going on.

Peta [00:03:52] Well, you have a lot to remember clearly. So, yeah. And obviously, you bubbly and gorgeous person, how did you go about transitioning from going from someone who didn't have a disability to having a disability? Not only that, having a lot of different challenging disabilities. Did you have much knowledge about disability before you became disabled?

Lisa [00:04:17] I mean, I grew up with friends with disabilities, but that's not knowing much at all really. That was obviously going up in the 80s and 90s, there wasn't much representation on my screens and in the media and things like that. And I certainly didn't grow up studying it or anything like that. So apart from from friends and things, I didn't have any siblings or family members with disabilities. I was pretty clueless. And in terms of how I coped, I coped really badly at first. I was really, really upset because all I knew was that my leg was going to be chopped off. And I had in my head these stereotypes that. I had from the media that all I knew about disability was that I was going to be really, really sad and really, really miserable and that was it. My life was going to be over because that's really all I knew about disability because I was presented for twenty-four years of my life through the media. And it turns out that that's complete B.S. It doesn't have to be like that. I certainly came to deal with it in my own way, and I won't lie there were certainly some really bad days and there still are. I learnt that I can only control what I could control and yeah there were things outside of my control. And so I just yeah got on with what I could get on with.

Peta [00:05:56] You know, I'm a very positive person as well, but even I, particularly in hospital, I don't know what it is about the medical system, but for me, being in hospital is a really negative space. That's the only time where I sort of go, why me? You're trying to get your head around your new identity, your new life, what how this is going to affect you. So it's completely understandable that that would have been a very rough time.

Lisa [00:06:23] Yes, sure, it was a really, really rough time and credit to my incredible family, they were just fantastic and I certainly helped enormously by one thing that really, really helped was a beautiful girl called Pheobe. And she knows I'll be talking about her because I tell everybody about how she changed my life. Basically, as I mentioned before, I had all these stereotypes in my head of what disability would be and how my life would be. Nothing good is going to happen, and then my surgeon actually organised this girl called Pheobe to come and visit me and she'd been through all I knew was that she'd been through something similar. And this girl, Phoebe, just walked into my room and I thought, oh, what with this girl know? This beautiful girl walking into my room. Screw her. She knows nothing about what I've been through. Turns out she had both legs amputated below the knee, one and one hand similar to mine. She'd just come back from overseas, over in London. She was studying Law and was living with her partner, her boyfriend time. And I was gobsmacked. I was like, my God, people actually have fulfilling lives and go travelling and study and live life and find love and wow! This whole life that I never knew existed. Seeing Phoebe that day, that certainly changed my whole world and I'll never forget, so from that day on I was like, wow, this is going to be fine. I will actually live with my disability. So that was the game-changer for me.

Peta [00:08:12] And what an impact one visit could have clearly on your life, that must really give you the determination to become an advocate for yourself and illustrate that you can have a full life because just one person, you can have a very big impact, clearly, just like Phoebe did with you. And is that one of your main motivations for being a spokesperson, being in the media, doing what you do now?

Lisa [00:08:40] It's one of the many, many reasons, and I'm so bloody grateful every day to just be here and to be alive because I died twice in the hospital and my parents were told they might have to turn off my life support. So it is a gift for me to be alive. The fact that I can use my voice to advocate for people who perhaps can't advocate for themselves and the fact that I can use my voice in that way and still write and still speak. When I first came out of the coma, I had to point at a board of letters to speak because I couldn't speak, and that was how I communicated. So the fact that I could even be here speaking to you today. That's pretty bloody awesome.

Peta [00:09:32] And you not only use your voice on social media, but you also have written two books about representation in the media, particularly the impact on body image. How does the lack of representation of people with disabilities in the media affected you?

Lisa [00:09:51] Well, there is that old saying I suppose that you can't be what you can't see. That's not just about being a disabled model or all disabled, people want to be models. Even to the people doing the grocery shopping, driving the kids to school, filling the car with petrol, all the normal Day-To-Day things. Those sorts of things start to sort of trickle-down to disabled people who are thinking, jeez, I don't have a place here. I don't see myself I don't see myself reflected in society. I don't see myself filling the car up with petrol, taking the kids to school, doing grocery shopping. Where do I fit? And I suppose also my role a little bit differently because I had that background in advertising. I worked in advertising agencies for several years with national and international brands. I knew my role could be different, I could actually help to make a change, so that's what I've said about during working with brands and businesses who do want to be more inclusive and do want to represent disability, but perhaps need a little bit of help navigating those nuances about how to do it well, how to walk correctly without being tokenistic.

Peta [00:11:16] Going back to you, saying people needing representation so they themselves know they can do it as well. When it's amazing to me, even when I as you say, I go fill up my car, that's the time that people come up to me sort of gobsmacked that I do drive and I do have to fill my car up with petrol, funny about that. I really am proud of myself that I am living the life that I'm living. But I also hope with representation through people like you, that people do understand that you can have a full life even if your family or friends don't think that you can.

Lisa [00:11:58] There's this huge flow in effect, is the car filling up the car as an example, say, if we have a person with disabilities, filling up a car or doing other quote-unquote, normal things in TV advertising or something like that, then the viewer suddenly sees people with disabilities doing normal Day-To-Day things. And suddenly when we're out in the supermarket in a wheelchair or doing whatever we're doing, it won't be such a novelty for us to be out. And I, for example, won't be patted on the head or the shoulder and said, good to see you're out. Oh, it's so good you're out. When I'm at the gym like I often am, it's oh, it's so good to hear. Well, I'm here every day. What are you talking about?

Peta [00:12:51] And even if it's passive education, just through reflection, everything helps. So whether I'm educating someone just by them observing me, filling up my car, they've then learnt that people with disabilities can fill up their car.

Lisa [00:13:06] That's exactly right. And that's right.

Peta [00:13:09] We chatted on Instagram. That's how we connected, and the one thing I love about you, Lisa, is you love fashion. So I go on to one of my favourite topics ever. What are your favourite, most, most inclusive fashion brands that you can recommend to the audience and to me?

Lisa [00:13:28] Oh, Ok. So, two types of fashion. There is inclusive fashion, which is fashion design specifically for people with disabilities. So they have magnets instead of buttons. So your viewers can't see my fingertips but I'm missing nine of them. I've had them amputated so I can do up buttons, so I love magnets instead of buttons. So my two favourite labels are Christina Stephens. And Carol, Tyla Designs. The mainstream fashion I love is Jockey the reason I love them. If your Instagram feed. They seamlessly and incidentally, use disabled models throughout their feed. Disabled models are in there just like everybody else. They don't send out a press release and make a big song and dance is just there.

Peta [00:14:28] As it should be.

Lisa [00:14:28] And I love it

Peta [00:14:31] Well, I know what I'll be doing this afternoon, having a little look through, and maybe a little shop. Thanks, Lisa. I'll be sure to put those links in the description if anybody's interested as well. So for me, the fashion industry isn't, it's getting there, but it has a long way to go to become more accessible and inclusive. What are the things that you wish would happen?

Lisa [00:14:58] So accessibility isn't just about putting up putting a ramp at your front door. Something like accessibility can also be at an online store, having alt text and making sure screenreaders can be used. Making sure that your marketing and advertising is is also inclusive. And that could also be something like using alt text on your Instagram ads. For example, I know that I've got a few friends who can't see and they'll be scrolling through Instagram and they will see a sale that might say I get 50 per cent off dresses and they will think great. But then because they can't see the dress and there's no alt text for the screenreader to say this is a red dress with a v shape neck to describe the dress, they can't, you know, there's nothing to tell them what that dress looks like. And it's a really simple illusion to be made.

Peta [00:16:07] I mean, it's just it goes to show that not only is business not understanding that we are capable and willing and able to give another perspective in business, if we're sitting at the table, we're also able to show that as a demographic are consumers with money to spend. And these organisations are just ignoring that and how does that make good business sense? Recently, you're in a bit of a media storm about fashion week, in Sydney.

Lisa [00:16:43] Oh, shit, yes.

Peta [00:16:47] Can you tell the audience a little bit about what happened? And then we'll go on to how we how you think people should think about responding on behalf of somebody with a disability.

Lisa [00:17:01] So for some context, I've been working for years and years behind the scenes because Paris, Milan, New York, all over the world, wheelchairs, people with prosthetic limbs, people, physical disabilities had been on the big National Fashion Week catwalks for years and years. No big deal. Except for in Australia and it was embarrassing really. So I've been talking to some people and saying, hey, guys, this is not on, come on. And finally, this year, got it happening. Not just one wheelchair on one catwalk, tick the diversity box but we got it happening in several different ways across the events, et cetera, et cetera. All of that was great. But unfortunately, the final catwalk, if you're on a wheelchair, the caster wheels which are those little wheels on in front of my wheelchair, some paper got stuck on the front of my caster wheels. So I got stuck on the runway, unfortunately, couldn't go anywhere. And someone had to help push me off the runway. And the Internet just went to be a batshit crazy because of it.

Peta [00:18:23] And that I mean, congratulations on getting that done. First of all, thank you for making sure that more people like myself and people with disabilities, in general, is represented in the fashion industry, because I truly believe not only does the fashion industry not consider us consumers, a lot of people don't consider people with disabilities beautiful or desirable. So thank you for that. I really do appreciate it. But also, it must have been a real bummer after all that hard work that the main reason why you wanted to get this to happen was overshadowed by some simple bit of paper on the runway.

Lisa [00:19:02] Yes, you're absolutely right. It was disappointing because such a big thing had happened in Australia's Australian fashion history in that something and I speak collectively, the disability community generally had been speaking about wanting to happen, had finally happened, and then we always focus on some paper getting caught in, some in a wheelchair. And I'm not dismissing the fact that the bigger issue is accessibility. That was a big issue, and I'm not minimising that. But it was it was very disappointing that we didn't look at the fact that it was a really, really big deal, that we finally. The disability community has not achieved what I've been hoping, hoping to do for a long time

Peta [00:20:06] and I don't know about you. I've had a few people in my life without disabilities speak on my behalf. And I find it really frustrating because a lot of the time they think they know and they're very well-meaning and often very sweet, but don't really know the true reflection of the reality of what it is to have a disability. So on this occasion, this was just magnified. You had hundreds and hundreds of comments, lots of people giving their opinion on people's behalf with disabilities, that what happened was atrocious and people didn't truly understand what accessibility was and what inclusion was. And a lot of the time, people are well-meaning, as I said. What do you wish people without disabilities kept in mind when they speak on behalf of someone with a disability?

Lisa [00:21:01] I think it was it wasn't just people with or without a disability, it was also sometimes people with a disability. Anyone who wasn't me or wasn't there, to be honest. The issue of accessibility, that is an issue three hundred sixty-five days a year for me and for a lot of other people with a disability. It doesn't go away when Fashion Weekends. For anyone to understand it, it is such a big issue, something like accessibility, it doesn't go away when fashion weekends. And it is something that came out to Camilla and I are absolutely committed to continue talking about. We are really looking forward to seeing what the organisers do next year because they themselves admit that everybody has learnt from this. We all make mistakes and that's how you learn. They have put up their hand and said hey we've learnt and we make mistakes and we learn. So next year is going to be better through this.

Peta [00:22:24] Finally, the last question before we wrap up is, what do you love about having a disability, Lisa?

Lisa [00:22:32] Well, at first I thought that could not possibly be anything I could love about it but it turns out that there is. I have met the most incredible people. I've also met some absolute arseholes but I've met some amazing people. I've met my husband because of my disability and I've made some incredible friends that some beautiful people have come into my life because of my disability.

Peta [00:23:04] Well, thank you for your time. I really appreciate it. And I hope you enjoyed our conversation today. I certainly did. Before we wrap up, where can people find you? How can people support you?

Lisa [00:23:18] I think I'm on lots of platforms, but I'm really, really not very good at answering messages because I never check them. But Instagram is probably the one that I do check a lot of. So, Is my handle. It's also my website.

Peta [00:23:41] I will put all those links in the description. Thank you so much for your time, Lisa, and I hope you have a really good day.

Lisa [00:23:48] Thank you!

Peta [00:23:53] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. I certainly did. If you'd like to ask me questions for a future episode of the podcast, there are three ways you can do so. One by my Instagram, which is at @petahooke spelt P.E.T.A.H.O.O.K.E. Via my email Or via my website If you can't think of a question just yet, that's OK. What about following me on social media. Oh sharing an episode with a friend. I appreciate every single listen. So until next week bye.


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