Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at a year old, Grace Stratton has been navigating life in a wheelchair for 20 years, but her disability isn’t the story - what she’s done with it is. At 16 Grace built a website from her hospital bed while she was in recovery from surgery. That site led her to discover that in today’s landscape what made her different was what gave her power to succeed, in whatever fields she chose. Founded in 2019, All is for All was a world-first website which helps disabled people navigate the fashion world and buy products online, since its inception; All is for All has grown into a communications, talent and media agency – that breaks boundaries and creates impact, to reframe disability in society.
In 2019 Stratton received a New Zealand Youth Award for Innovation. Also last year, she was named in InStyle magazine's list of 50 Badass Women. In August 2019 Grace was a keynote speaker at the opening of New Zealand Fashion Week.
Grace studies law at AUT and she talks to the NZLS Auckland Branch about her website, her studies, and life under level 4 COVID-19.
Over the last few weeks, the world has changed dramatically due to the outbreak of COVID- 19. How are you and the other people with disabilities that you know getting on right now, given the situation?
I personally am in a position that I’m able to pivot my company and its creations to be digital, where they were tangible. Additionally, I am privileged to be able to support the community All is for All has built, it’s a tough situation for every person – people with disabilities are no exception and globally, they are scared at what their futures might hold. In response to this it is critically important to have disability rights and accessibility championed, because we must work together to ensure that people with disabilities are supported, both through this time and after.
You are currently studying LAW at AUT. What motivated you to study law and how do you, as a student, think AUT is handling the current situation?
I think AUT is handling the situation very well, this situation is unchartered territory for every organisation and the response from AUT, as well as their willingness to listen to students, reflects the empathy of the organisation as a whole. I have seen some students critique AUT’s response, but to my mind – AUT has listened to students, implemented a new infrastructure efficiently and maintained student communications – we’re lucky to be in a position where a university listens to its students, and I do not believe that anybody who is critiquing the response, could have built/created another, better solution.
Are you able to focus on your studies during the lockdown?
Yes, on a personal note – I’m a pretty resilient person, the year my company launched, I was also studying – and my father was very ill. So I am used to juggling a few things at one time, additionally, being disabled requires a thicker skin, so I think that places me in good stead to focus on my studies whilst this COVID-19 situation is occurring. I have been impressed that AUT has adjusted hand-in dates in response to the interruption COVID-19 has caused. For me personally, I am glad to have my studies during this time as something to focus on and complete.
In 2019 you started All is for All. What was the main motivation for that and how are you running the website at the moment?
My main motivation was that I wanted to secure opportunities and advancements for my community. I have lived in a world that wasn’t designed for me, or people like me, for 20 years. I was tired of that. I was tired of people without disabilities speaking for us, so I started the company and since then we’ve secured opportunities for numerous youth with disabilities; they became consultants, models, writers – for people like The Warehouse Group, New Zealand Fashion Week and more. And I am determined to see them continue to grow.
At the moment our focus is working with clients, to implement world class communication strategies, increase representation, produce content and implement accessible outcomes; I believe in this period of time accessibility will be something that helps us through, and enables the reinvention of our society to be digitally enabled, and more equal.
You have a great presence on Social Media. What are some of the positive aspects that Social Media has for people with disabilities?
My personal Instagram is private, but All is for All’s and our models are able to be viewed and are growing our community. I think for disabled people particularly social media can connect us together; so often it’s hard to find people who ‘look like you’ – in the disability community – so you feel alone. Social media can connect us and help us find one another and I am proud of the community All is for All is building. If you are looking to follow some of our amazing young people; we’re at @allisforall and some of our models are @rebeccadubber @oliviashivas – and some of our amazing consultants are; @rednz @aychmcardle
What kind of law do you want to specialise in and why?
I have always intended on working in the criminal defence sector – which I am under no disillusions is a difficult area of the profession. I am an admirer of Greg King’s, may he rest in peace – and I grew up reading a bit about him and the work he’d done. He was an incredible person and lawyer. I admired his way of working, how he stood beside and represented people that probably weren’t the easiest to stand-by, how he was a critical thinker and didn’t just accept things were the way they were – and of course his work in the Eisenhower Scholarship, to look at strategies to reduce the prison population –
I’d like to be part of widespread system change, all of my work is because I ask the question “why are things that way” – and if I don’t agree with the answer, I set out to change it. Additionally, I believe that the role of the defence attorney is crucial and so often undervalued, so I would like to be part of making sure that people have the representation they deserve – and that the law is held to account, because it is as often wrong, as it is right.
With that being said, All is for All has placed me on a path and I’m not 100% sure where I will end up, but I do know I’ll advocate in some capacity.
What advice might you have for people who may be struggling in the current situation?
I don’t feel like I am equipped to give people advice; because I recognise the great deal of strife that people are currently experiencing and I wouldn’t want to act like I could advise for that. However, I would say that times of great tragedy throughout history have led to new developments, innovations and the rise of something new – so when this is over, we should all do what we can, in our positions and professions to reach forward; and help others more.
Also, I’d say that there’s been some great work happening, @bestbubblenz and brightspots are just two examples – so if in doubt, look to those.
This article first appeared on the Auckland branch of New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture of Aotearoa's page.