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Stuff podcast provides authentic insight into life as a disabled person

By Olivia Shivas

Stuff

Auckland, New Zealand

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What’s Wrong With You? is a seven-part accessible podcast series offering an unflinching and thought-provoking look into the lives of disabled people.

I wrote and presented the podcast alongside Paralympian Rebecca Dubber, and it was produced by entrepreneur Grace Stratton. As disabled women, we created it to challenge the prevailing narrative around how disabled people are perceived and portrayed.

Growing up, we never saw people like us in the media. We wanted to share authentic stories about disability from our own experience and, hopefully, start to change the representation of disabled people in New Zealand. So I pitched the idea to my colleagues at Stuff and it was green-lit. I was given several months’ leave from my role as a digital producer at the time to plan, write, and host the podcast.

For the seven-part series, Olivia Shivas (right) and Paralympian Rebbeca Dubber helped listeners discover what it's like to live with a disability.
For the seven-part series, Olivia Shivas (right) and Paralympian Rebbeca Dubber helped listeners discover what it's like to live with a disability.

Breaking down barriers

What’s Wrong With You? explores the physical and social barriers that disabled people live with every day — and a world that’s not always accessible. It tackles the big topics about living with a disability: from sex and dating to religion, parenting, mobility car parks, and how to fend off outrageous comments and questions.

We talked to a series of guests that included models, members of parliament, students, and parents, who each brought their unique perspectives to the topics. They came from a range of cultural backgrounds, ages, regions of New Zealand, faith backgrounds, and different disabilities — including congenital and acquired disabilities.

The guests didn’t hold back around topics that make them frustrated and angry about living in an ableist society. Their stories were humorous, honest, and heartfelt.

For one episode, the podcast team let listeners experience what it's like to travel in a wheelchair.
For one episode, the podcast team let listeners experience what it's like to travel in a wheelchair.

For the travel episode, Rebecca, Grace, and I traveled to Dunedin (a city on the South Island of New Zealand) to give listeners a live account of what it’s actually like traveling in a wheelchair with the many barriers in the way — such as inaccessible buildings and getting on and off an airplane.

In the media, the view of disability is often framed around inspiration or pity. It’s positioned as this metaphorical mountain that we climb every day. And that’s not always the case. Just like lots of people all across Aotearoa, we live and work successfully with our disabilities.

Changing perceptions

We came up with the title What’s Wrong With You? because when people see us it’s often what they’re thinking. One in four New Zealanders has a disability, so we hoped the podcast would challenge people’s perceptions and promote deeper understanding.

We had two audiences in mind:

  • The disabled community, which rarely find itself represented in mainstream media.
  • And the non-disabled community, to help educate them and provide some guidance on how to interact with people with disabilities.

For the listener, it has a “fly on the wall” feeling about it, like listening to a private conversation — providing uncensored insights into what life is really like for disabled people in New Zealand.

Stuff’s mission is to use its reach and scale to help make Aotearoa New Zealand a better place, and we see this podcast as integral to that mission. The podcast gained local and international attention outside of our own channels as well, including interviews on several radio shows and articles in The Washington Post in the United States and Frankie Magazine in Australia.

In addition to being shortlisted in this year’s INMA Global Media Awards, I was honoured to receive the Enterprise Award and overall Attitude Supreme Award at the Attitude Awards for my work on the podcast. The Attitude Awards is a national celebration of the disability community in New Zealand. I was recognised for elevating the voice of disabled people.

What’s Wrong With You? was funded by NZ On Air and sponsored by EveryHuman and is available at stuff.co.nz/whatswrongwithyou.

About Olivia Shivas

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