• Empowering independence

    Stefanie Strubreiter is in her late twenties, and lives with a disability. Yet, that never stopped her from pursuing her dreams. We met with the inspiring young woman to talk about work, the arts – and powerchair football.

    When we meet in the heart of Vienna, Stefanie Strubreiter (29) smoothly drives towards our table. With only a tip of her fingers, she skillfully maneuvers her motorised wheelchair right next to me and greets me with a smile.

    The fact that Stefanie lives with a disability is no barrier for her and her vivid lifestyle, she says. She studies media informatics at the Technical University, is goalkeeper at a powerchair football team – aiming to establish an Austrian Championship soon – meets with friends, visits museums and exhibitions and tries to find her place in the professional world, just as any other young woman in her twenties.

    Art makes everyone equal

    Well, maybe not just as any because Stefanie is part of an outstanding arts project that deals with non-aligned bodies in society. “We discuss this topic in two parts with a performance and a scientific basis. So, next to the theoretical reflection our events always include a performance part where the topic becomes more tangible and visible for the audience,” Stefanie explains.

    While she maintains the web platform and helps organise events, the organisation Mixed-Abled Dance & Performance (MAD) is a way for Stefanie to combine her studies, work experience and love for the arts. “Art is a way to treat everyone equally. Society is often full of prejudices but art can link everything together.” Since 2008, Stefanie has been living with personal assistance which supports her in living an autonomous life at work and at home. “It’s funny, but sometimes I don’t even notice them being around. It has become perfectly natural for me.”

    The spirit of the team

    While her day is packed with studies, work and meeting friends, Stefanie still finds time for football practice. For her, a team sport too is a way of meeting people on eye level. “I have been playing for a year now and it’s a great way of winding down after the daily grind. Just like in art, in sports there is no difference. While everyone might have their own tasks, they also have to stick together in order to reach a common goal. I found out about powerchair football by coincidence and stayed due to the encouraging sports and community spirit.”

    At the moment Stefanie is already busy preparing the next edition of MAD’s “Swaying” event, which will take place in Linz, and visits her usual workspace only rarely due to many external appointments. “I am taking care of the organisation and many other things. It can be quite exhausting but I need that. I guess I am just an active person by nature.” Her ever-hungry attitude is also what brought her to places like Berlin or London and travelling has become her dearest hobby ever since.

    Supporting independence

    “I don’t feel different. In fact – I am not different. Maybe when it comes to going up and down the stairs but that’s what I have got support for. My personal assistance is just like an extension of my arms – they help me be independent and manage things on my own.”

    When asked about what she would change in today’s world, she thinks for while and assertively replies: “What I would wish for is peace and respect for everyone. There is a lot of injustice and power struggle in our society, so what we need is simply respect – not just for other people but also for the nature and the whole universe.”

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