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Disability advocate Fiona Strahan recalls terrifying public abuse at royal commission

Tom Zaunmayr -

Fiona Strahan recalls in harrowing detail the time in a Wheatbelt town in Western Australia she was tormented for her stature by a group of men who followed closely behind her.

It was in the town she grew up in where, standing with two fellow short-statured people, another instance of vile public abuse was ingrained in Ms Strahan's memory.

"I came out the glass door, and when I came out a group of men followed me and got closer and closer and kind of turned into a V, just behind me," she said.

"Talking out loud about how many of us they had seen."

The First Nations disability advocate last week told her story to the Federal Government's Disability Royal Commission, which is probing violence and abuse directed towards disabled Australians, including on the internet.

In another instance in nipaluna (Hobart), Ms Strahan said a group of people began making crude and sexist jokes from their car as she went about her day.

'There were two cars with a car in the middle and they started yelling at me," she said.

"It first started off at jokes like, 'here, mate, here is your girlfriend', you know, 'here is your new wife'.

"I was having the beginning of a trauma reaction where my amygdala went, 'let's get out of here' and rationality had disappeared."

Trying to walk away, Ms Strahan could hear them behind her. She felt she had no option left but to jaywalk across the street, which almost resulted in a horrifying accident.

"The first car saw me and stopped," she said.

"The second car didn't see me and screeched to a halt, and then the third car saw me.

"I got to the other road - side of the road and by that time I - I was so completely in the middle of a very deep kind of trauma reaction because what had happened is I had lost control of what I was doing."

Assisting counsel Elizabeth Bennett asked if Ms Strahan felt comfortable reporting this incident, for which she responded that she wasn't able to recall the number plates of the men.

"I was trying to survive"

"They were men who were way bigger than me."

She went on to describe other experiences of public harassment, infantilization and sexualisation.

It included an incident from when she first moved to nipaluna and was walking on a main road when her path was blocked by three men trying to take her picture.

"I said no and I had my hand out," she said.

"They got closer and said 'come on, come on, you're really cute... what about a cuddle and a kiss?

"This is in the middle of the goddamn day."

Ms Strahan now uses her voice to advocate for people with disabilities, currently working as a project manager at Disability Voices Tasmania.

She argues this work has led her to believe inclusion would help decrease instances of public harrassment.

Use of language is another area Ms Strahan says change can occur.

"It's okay for me to use the word dwarf but don't you use it," she said.

"It's about ownership."

Ms Strahan said disabled people needed to be seen everywhere and have support services to enable this to happen.

Story by Briana Charles.

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