In celebration of National Youth Week, SBS teamed up with the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) and Department of Social Services (DSS) to give young people the chance to share their story on national television. 15- to 24-year olds across the country were invited to submit a video entry about their unique identity. After several rounds of judging, five winners were chosen to attend a week-long filmmaking and storytelling workshop in Melbourne with FYA. At the end of the workshop, each winner produced a short film about their story. Watch it below.

Winner, Amy Marks, 20, opens up about living as a young person with a disability. She hopes to offer authentic representation, and stop people from jumping to the conclusion that life with a disability is either extremely tragic or inherently inspirational.

When we talk, she begins by saying how exciting it was to see coverage of the Paralympics in 2016 across mainstream media. She explains it was refreshing to see disability talked about so publicly and so often. From her point of view, it was a step towards recognising that disabilities do exist but people who live with them are not necessarily defined by that.

Amy proudly exclaims, “any representation is good representation!” She so often feels that people with a disability become tokens of inspiration or struggle, across all forms of media, but she wants to change that. “I don’t care if the person with a disability is the villain in a show and you hate them, as long as the disability is represented authentically — as long as it’s not exploited or the central point of a story.”

Amy’s film is based on how she would explain her disability to other kids when she was in primary school. “I realised when I was younger that if you say to a 6-year-old ‘I have Cerebral Palsy Spastic Diplegia’ it won’t make sense. Instead I used to tell kids that I was a secret agent and my crutches were weapons — like giant antennas — or say ‘I got bit by a shark! And this is how I’m recovering from my epic shark battle!’” She says it allowed other kids to follow what was happening with her surgery and recovery.

“Even though I didn’t realise at the time, I was building a story for myself and I guess that’s why I’m into film – it’s storytelling.”

She hopes her film might be a starting point for more casual discussions about life with a disability. “Maybe it will be a way for young people with disabilities to go, ‘hey, did you see that film on SBS last night?’ and that will get people talking.”

Although every experience is unique, she says, “if I was going to rewrite the stigma around disability — and this is going to sound weird — most people would say ‘let’s start with the wider community!’ But I think I’d turn that around and start inwards, and begin with the stigma around disability from within the community itself.”

Amy explains she didn’t want to be another voice telling people how to feel about their disability. “When that kind of subject matter is explored on TV it’s often a heavy topic, which encourages people to treat others as if they must be ashamed or embarrassed. Or conversely, overly proud.”

She says it’s with this kind of misleading representation and general lack of public discussion, that people often jump in to help those they meet with a disability. Sometimes this does more harm than good. Her number one pet peeve: “people helping me when I don’t need help.” Amy jokes about not wanting to feel like she might get a round of applause if she goes to grab a snack from the supermarket.

She catches a lot of taxis, and drivers will often hop out, readjust the seat and overcompensate for what they perceive to be the problem. This leaves her with the awkward task of asking if they can change it back, because they’ve in fact made the experience more uncomfortable for her. Also, when walking up stairs she finds it startling (as anyone would) to be grabbed around the waist by a stranger with no word or warning. “By all means, do help people in the community with disabilities — but always remember to ask if we need help first.”

To her, it can feel like people are saying “because you don’t do things my way, you’re not as capable.” But in fact, sometimes things can look like a struggle when they’re actually not.

Although, Amy admits, that she also gets uncomfortable around people with disabilities she hasn’t dealt with before, and says she sometimes finds herself replicating the behaviours she hates. She’d love for more people living with disabilities to find confidence in saying “sorry, your help isn’t helpful” without offending the public. It saddens her to apologise just because “someone feels like they’ve done their good deed for the day, and now they’ve had the rug pulled from under them.”

She finishes off by saying, “it comes down to three points: don’t be afraid to help; ask what help is needed; if help isn’t needed, respect that.”

Words: Lucy Waddington
Mentor Director: Brigid Canny
Mentor Director of Photography: Charlie Alexander
Photographer: Emily Franke
Set Liaison: Leonie Quayle

Read all the stories from the 2017 Youth Week winners