When a stranger on the train tells you your life isn't worth living

30 November 2020

Sometimes when I’m out in public I can feel you staring.

Some of you go quiet as I walk past. Some of you even talk about me when I’m in ear shot. Surprise! I can hear you.

It may also surprise you to know that I catch public transport. And while thankfully it’s mostly a mundane task, it’s where I get the most reaction to being blind.

Sometimes it’s good and other times it’s really bad.

One train trip stuck with me. It upset me so much that it’s only now, years later, I can write about it.

My white cane was folded up on my lap. I was engrossed in the latest true crime podcast and I felt someone tapping my shoulder.

I immediately pulled my headphones out.

A curious passenger wanted to know how I’d lost my vision. I explained that was a personal question.

My attempts to return to my podcast were met with even more questions and I felt pressure to just oblige.

We covered a lot of ground in our brief conversation, but it came to a grinding halt when he said that if he was me, he’d kill himself.

I felt so confused. I loved my life.

I remember feeling a mix of anger, frustration and fear.

Surely, this wasn’t how most people in the general population thought of disability?

I also felt like I’d let my community down. I should have yelled at him.

Nas stands on a train platform with her cane. Nas stands on a train platform with her cane.
As she went about her business, a stranger told Nas Campanella her life was not worth living.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

I have a good job, a loving relationship, great friends and family, and have travelled the world. I have a better life than he’d ever cared to consider.

It wasn’t the first time a member of the public had said something inappropriate or treated me like I shouldn’t exist.

I’ve had countless people ask my husband what I’d like to eat or drink. Others ask him my name while I’m standing right there.

Shop assistants have also assumed my support worker is paying for an item I’ve just placed on the counter.

But that trip on the train was the first time I’d been left shaken.

Once again, it cast a revealing light on just how much work was needed to change perceptions around disability and that many people still thought of disabled lives as not worth living.

When I started my role as national disability affairs reporter back in May, I had some clear goals.

I wanted to elevate the voices of people so rarely heard in our community and use stories to shift the conversation around disability.

Nas and Tom walk up the aisle after their wedding ceremony, smiling and among friends and family Nas and Tom walk up the aisle after their wedding ceremony, smiling and among friends and family
Nas Campanella married ABC radio presenter Tom Oriti.(Supplied: Elize Strydom)

The pandemic dominated much of my work in the first couple of months, with stories on autistic people struggling to use telehealth, others being left without support and coronavirus clusters in group homes.

More positive stories have focused on schemes making it possible for young women to live independently and a residency program providing employment opportunities to artists.

I knew when I took on the position there would be no shortage of stories to tell. Immediately hundreds of emails flooded my inbox.

I quickly realised even I had underestimated the attention needed on disability issues.

I wanted to do something bigger, something bold. I wanted to showcase some of the incredible people in my community working to make a difference to us all and give a platform to the talented people that for too long had been hidden from the mainstream.

And there’s no better time to do this than on International Day of People With Disability.

This week, you’ll be hearing from Australians who live with disability, like Erika England, who has fluctuating conditions that mean some days she can move mountains, other days she can’t move from the couch.

Or Karan Nagrani, who has retinitis pigmentosa and at 34 has just 3 degrees of peripheral vision left and has developed cataracts. He works in visual marketing and doesn’t want your pity.

For some, celebrating dedicated days can seem tokenistic.

Let’s be real, I’d love not to have to mark a day specifically recognising the contributions of people living with disability.

It should be done every day of the year.

But that’s also naive. Society simply isn’t at a point where we should just let the day go by without making a statement.

My personal experience and reporting on the public hearings of the disability royal commission have taught me that while significant progress has been made in recognising and valuing people living with disability, it’s still not good enough.

Many in my community live below the poverty line. We experience violence, discrimination and struggles with mental health and unemployment on a widespread scale.

And our Indigenous brothers and sisters face double the disadvantage.

My reporting role feels very much part of the change.

Nas Campanella in a radio studio, wearing headphones and speaking into a mic. Nas Campanella in a radio studio, wearing headphones and speaking into a mic.
Journalist Nas Campanella became the ABC’s national disability affairs reporter in May.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Growing up, there were no reporters like me on national television. Now, not a week goes by where I’m not filming a story for the major news bulletin.

The enormity of my role is not lost on me, but I look forward to the day when my position as a reporter is no longer a novelty.

I hope my career path creates opportunities and hope for the many others after me. And hopefully, that will mean a very different conversation the next time I encounter a curious stranger on a train.

This Thursday, December 3, is International Day of People With Disability.

I’d like everyone to think more carefully about the way they talk directly to people with disability and the way they speak about us.

Across the ABC you’ll be able to hear, see and read content from everyday Australians living with disability who will share their experiences of work, love and life.

And if you ever see me on a train, feel free to have a chat. Just like you might with anyone else.

This post was reproduced from


and written by Nas Campanella

ABC News NDIS, Disability (Direct Feed)



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