Pride and purpose: Isabella Fantasia – a fresh voice for Disability Advisory Committee

8 April 2024

Get to know a passionate expert working to make Melbourne more accessible and inclusive for people with disability – during April for Autism Awareness Month and year-round.

Our Disability Advisory Committee brings together people with diverse lived experiences of disability to advise and guide the City of Melbourne on access and inclusion. One of the committee’s newest members is Isabella Fantasia – a disability, mental health and youth intersectionality advocate who uses the handle Divergent Bell.

Isabella was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at 19, in the middle of the pandemic. This was a turning point in her life – she left her role at Lort Smith Animal Hospital and quickly become an active disability advocate. The journey began with a leadership program, then an internship at the Disability Resources Centre.

“As I began to navigate my new identity, I was also discovering more about the disability community, what issues the community advocates for, where support is available, and where it is lacking,” Isabella said.

“I was learning about the disability support pension, the NDIS, transport accessibility, and the challenges that different people with disability face when they’re getting around the city. Some of what I discovered was frustrating, but it also made me very engaged.

“I wanted to do something about the problems I saw – to make a difference for the community and create change. When I finally got diagnosed, my disabilities became my special interest and my new career path. It’s been a really wild journey.”

As the youngest member of the City of Melbourne’s Disability Advisory Committee – a role she also holds on Bayside City Council’s equivalent advisory group – Isabella is dedicated to voicing the needs of young people with disabilities.

“I’m keen to share a young person’s experience of disability and highlight what initiatives would benefit young people – who perhaps do not have much of a support system and understanding around them,” Isabella said.

“When a young person and / or a parent or caregiver is planning to go to a certain area of the city, they have to do a lot of research to understand whether the spaces and activities they’re going to will be accessible.”

Three people explore an art installation made up of colourful pillars
People explore a colourful art installation at the National Gallery of Victoria

Hidden disabilities: say it with a sunflower

Globally, one billion people live with disabilities that are not immediately obvious. These disabilities are extremely varied, and include autism, dementia, hearing loss and chronic illness.

Signal your hidden disability by wearing a free Hidden Disability Sunflower product, such as a pin, lanyard and wristband. It’s a discrete sign that you may need extra assistance or considerations as you spend time in the city.

Staff who wear a sunflower symbol at City of Melbourne events have undergone specific training about hidden disability and can offer support and understanding help you enjoy the city.

Find the products at our events, tourism hubs, all our libraries and visitor centres, and the Traveller’s Aid centres at Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations.

“I really love the City of Melbourne’s partnership with Travellers Aid and the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program,” Isabella said.

“These are two groups providing great training and education, and helping to create accessible spaces at big community events like Moomba.”

To find out more, visit Supporting people with hidden disabilities.

A sunflower wristband on someone's hand
Someone wearing a Hidden Disabilities Sunflower wristband

Isabella’s vision for Melbourne

Looking to the future, Isabella’s big vision is for the city to be fully accessible, inclusive and equitable to all.

Towards this goal, she is advocating for more accessible buildings and public transport, wider footpaths and more quiet spaces that provide refuge from the loud sounds, bright lights and changing smells of the city.

“At the moment, the CBD isn’t fully accessible. There are a lot of buildings you can’t get into, public transport you can’t use and footpaths that aren’t wide enough to fit a wheelchair or a mobility scooter safely,” Isabella said.

“Apart from the libraries, the city also has very few quiet, autistic-friendly spaces. So more sensory rooms is something we can improve on. There is also more work to be done to shift attitudes – to improve how the community thinks about people with disability, and how people with disability are treated.”

To learn more about accessible places, recreation, dining, entertainment and more in the City of Melbourne, visit our Disability pride guide.

An accessible bathroom with a hoist
An Changing Places facility at the new narrm ngarrgu library

Leading with pride

While there is a still way to go to in making Melbourne more accessible and inclusive, Isabella feels proud to elevate the voices of people from the disability community.

“It is exhausting and tolling for people with disability to continually ask for what they need. I am proud to be an advocate on their behalf – not only for the autistic community, but for everyone with disability,” Isabella said.

“I am proud and confident in my disabilities. I love who I am. My journey has brought me an amazing sense of self-compassion and self-understanding. And it has opened my eyes more widely to how different people experience the world.”

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