Macy Torrington had a dream to be a fighter pilot, before a rare illness saw her swap a sleek jet for a wheelchair.
But the 20-year-old has always been a fighter, battling her ill health, disabilities and mental illness to forge another career as a model and actress.
Now Macy is fighting on a new front, against ableism and the discrimination by society of those with disabilities.
“I got really sick two days after I turned 17… literally one day I woke up, got to school, passed out and was in the hospital for a couple of weeks,” she tells Central News.
“I was on track to be a jet pilot at that time… had done all the army testing, I got a scholarship from ADFA – a couple of days away from doing my P’s test.”
There’s not enough disabled people in the industry to even make it like a thing to be disabled.
After sliding in and out of hospital for several months, Macy was eventually diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome or POTS. A rare condition that affects blood flow and significantly inhibits movement, requiring the then year-11 student to rely on a wheelchair.
She went into modelling and TV acting, but has experienced a culture of ableism within the Australian Arts Industry.
“There’s not enough disabled people in the industry to even make it like a thing to be disabled, basically,” she says. “So, there’s not enough writers, and there’s no-one that produces, there are like no roles for anyone with a disability.
“By including disabled writers you can have authentic stories, not just ‘uh this character is in a wheelchair, but then they get magic powers that make them walk again, and then their life is better’.”
While struggling as part of only the 3.1 per cent of TV actors with a disability in Australia, Macy is also fighting for representation for others outside the creative industries in what she describes as an ableist society.
“When I do these kinds of things like the city to surf and modelling and stuff, it’s more just fun for me and to show people that it’s not the end of the world to have a disability, which I kind of felt like it was when I first got one,” she says.
Currently, there are approximately 1 billion people with disabilities around the world, or 15 per cent of the global population.
John Ryan is a former NSW shadow disability minister and current member of the Disability Royal Commission. He admits despite these statistics, the barriers for disabled people to enter any workforce are vast.
“There’s a tendency to think that people with disabilities are incapable or just can’t figure out work. So, it ranges from prejudice all the way through to just simply underestimating what people with disabilities can do,” he says.
The cause of POTS is unknown. No single treatment is effective for all people. Some people with POTS report improved symptoms within a year, while for others the condition worsens.
“Typically, when you’re in the middle of that teenage angst ‘nobody understands me’ and now you definitely know that no one understands you because no one else is like you at all, like I was the only kid in a wheelchair,” she says.
As one of the 9 per cent of 569,000 Australians working in creative and cultural occupations with a disability, Macy is still having to struggle.
“I guess I had this image of myself where I’m so strong, like I can do it, I can do everything, despite being disabled. You don’t have emotions – push them down there, ’cause that’s like a very army thing to do. I was like; there’s nothing wrong with me’,” she says.
“[I wish I went] through like an honest grieving period, because in reality, if you haven’t lost a person, you’ve lost like a big chunk of at least what you thought your life would be like.
“So, you kind of have to go through like just a grieving process, same as if you lose anything,” she adds, welling up tears.
Macy names therapy as one of the biggest reasons for her now healthy mental condition and smiles proudly when sharing that her greatest achievement to date is just being ‘OK’.
“I had a pretty severe mental illness, so coming back from that has been really difficult and so much effort, and it’s like I put all that effort in, and it’s not for nothing,” she exclaims, almost in disbelief.
“I’m just proud of myself that I am happy.”
Main picture of Macy Torrington by Liam Cole