opinion

Madison de Rozario: "My chair is the least interesting thing about me. It shouldn’t be a divider."

At Mamamia, every day is International Women’s Day. But this year, we’re celebrating March 8 by sharing stories from some of Australia’s most influential women, as well as columns from voices spanning 5 generations, on the decade-defining conversations women are having. You can find all our International Women’s Day stories on our hub page.

International Women’s Day, for me, is about acknowledging and appreciating the women who’ve paved the way for us so far – but equally, about recognising that our work is by no means done.

We need to take this momentum and continue to push for a universal design.

It’s not so much about fighting for space in a pre-existing world. It’s about redesigning a structure that doesn’t currently work for everyone.

Right now we’re fighting for space for women, and it’s an opportunity to make sure that whatever we create welcomes everyone from every corner of our community: every gender, every level of ability, every ethnicity.

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My definition of what universal design should look like, and I apologise that it’s a sporting metaphor, is:

Whatever form we arrive on this planet is the equivalent of turning up to the race. At the start line, we’re all equal. The way we execute that race – what we do once we’re out there – that’s what counts, and that’s what should defines us.

Structurally, this is going to take time. But socially, we can make changes now.

If I could urge one message with my platform this IWD, it would be to say: be that person that sees something in someone else.

A majority of the people I know with a disability who have had professional or sporting success can pinpoint the moment that someone saw something in them that they didn’t see themselves. That moment is always described as one that changed their own view of themselves.

I want to see that change.

I understand the fight people with disabilities have is different to the fight we’re undertaking as women. But the more involved I’ve been with both, the more I’ve come to realise it’s the exact same fight.

I want to see more of us be the person who chooses to see something in someone when they don’t see it themselves. I want more of us to be the person who sees it when the rest of society refuses to.

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The part of this that I want to draw attention to is that so often it was just one person.

A huge part of feeling seen is also what we see in the world around us. Visibility versus just representation – there’s a big difference.

Representation is things like having a famous spokesperson represent that community. Giving society an easy or digestible frame of reference to view a community, via a well-known face.

We wrap this entire person’s personality up in that community, while defining the entire community by one individual.

That does a lot for awareness – but a whole community can’t be defined by one person.

And we can’t expect one person to be a beacon for a whole community either – that’s not fair to them and doesn’t allow them the space to be their truest or most authentic selves.

The way to truly normalise is through visibility in the everyday – in the campaigns we see, and media we consume, and in what our next generation grows up seeing – so that we all feel seen. And so our peers see us, too.

It took a while for me to get comfortable with being a role model for the community of people with disabilities. I’m so grateful for the platform that sport gives me, allowing me to shed light… but I’m a role model, not a poster child.

 

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Like most people in my community, I’m not here for language like “you’re so brave” or “how did you overcome”. Language dictates how we frame things, how we think about them and we need to make more conscious decisions in the way we speak.

Disability is a fact of life for almost 20% of the country; it doesn’t make us a saint or a survivor. There’s not always a sob story, or a tale of triumph against all odds.

We’re just living our lives – it’s neutral. That kind of “brave” language… I think it gets in the way of authentic connections. I’d rather people call me a hardcore athlete and a great sister!

My chair is the least interesting thing about me, and it shouldn’t be a divider.

More than four million people in Australia have some kind of disability. We’re a really big part of society.

Let’s keep working to design a world where we can all thrive – through universal design. And let’s celebrate this week, for all ceilings shattered this year by kickass women.

Para-athlete and world championship gold medalist Madison De Rozario has been named by Barbie as their 2020 ‘Shero’ for Australia. As a role model for the next generation, she’s helping shine a light on diversity and supporting a world where all kids can see themselves. You can follow her on Instagram @madison.____

Mamamia is funding 100 girls in school, every day with our charity partner Room To Read, and our goal is to get to 1,000 girls every day. To help empower women this International Women’s Day, you can donate to Room to Read and make a difference in girls’ futures.

 Feature Image: Getty images.
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