Week 8 | Redefining Disability & Difference

The article I chose this week is titled “Let’s redefine disability and difference” Digital storytelling helps change perceptions by Andrew Vowles. The article is about a digital storytelling initiative that was developed aiming into giving voice to underrepresented populations who in their turn through their powerful stories will shed light to a number of misperceptions related to disability and difference. The purpose of the project is to share the stories with health care providers and “to open audiences to multiple and nuanced ways of understanding difference”. The project is called Re-Vision and is led by Carla Rice a professor in the University of Guelph’s Department of Family relations and Applied Nutrition. She and her team at the RED-Lab (Re-Visioning Difference Media Art Laboratory) run workshops and assist participants with using video and audio equipment and to develop their stories of difference and disability. The stories that have been developed so far cover topics related to “bulling, blindness, dyslexia, schizophrenia depression and eating disorders.” Elisa Chandler, who completed her PhD and begun her post-doc, has firsthand experience about heath care stereotypes and misconceptions

According to Carla Rice there is evidence that health care of people with disabilities is poorer than those without disabilities. She suggests that viewing disability as another identity category “as opposed to a biomedical or individual problem” is going to improve health-care interactions. A number of providers who were interviewed after viewing the stories, reported change in the way they view differences and disabilities. They started viewing disability as “part of the human condition”.

In her own video, The Elephant in the Room, Carla Rice shares her experience of growing up as a “fat girl”. According to Rice “short –form story telling gives people tools to distill and interpret their experience and find an audience for their work” and “some of the people who participate in the project share their story for the first time and ‘they talk about the experience as a transformation” . A participant who loved reading and lost her sight in adulthood, discovered that “she was not angry at her blindness but at the lack of books available in accessible formats”. Furthermore, the author mentions Kim Wilson, who is a former research project manager with RED lab, her next project is to develop digital stories among seniors with mental illness and dementia hoping to “highlight the growing need for trained geriatric specialists.

This article definitely expands my definition of digital storytelling. I find the project very unique and I got very interested in watching the videos. I was only able to find Eliza Chandler’s video “Shift”. It is quite inspiring to know that by creating and sharing a story that reflects your own experiences and frustrations, might have positive impact on somebody else’s life  let along improving health care and policies for people with disabilities, or other population that experience difference as something negative because of stereotypes and lack of understanding. Also I would love to learn more about the use of storytelling with seniors who have mental illnesses and dementia and find out more information on the Re-Vision project. Since this initiative takes place in Canada, I wonder if there is something similar in the US. As I was searching for Re-Vision videos I came across a very engaging Tedx Talk about Digital storytelling – changing people, perceptions, and lives: Jim Jorstad at TEDxUWLaCrosse. This Ted Talk was also about viewing and understanding difference and about connecting with other people. Towards the end of his talk he encourages his audience to not look at their cell phones as they get ready to leave the room but to talk to the people who sit next to them and  to learn their name and one thing about them. “Technology is one thing, but we need to learn to connect with each other”. I believe that the message conveyed in both, the article and the Tedx Talk is that unless we start listening to the stories that people carry along with them we will not be able to understand difference and change perceptions.

I would like to close my response by quoting Carla Rice’s position in the article “Let’s redefine disability and difference”:  “Cultural justification for “othering” offer occurs through people’s bodies, through falsely labeling aspects of others’ embodiments as faulty and lacking, at least in the recent history of western culture since the rise of science. I’m interested in how we can interrupt those processes and how we can begin to imagine a world or a society where difference is welcomed in.”

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