Storytelling and community building for people with disabilities
There are various reasons why people with disabilities have not always been able to share their experiences or advocate for themselves and their communities. Postdoctoral researcher Maryam Bandukda is working with communities across the world to build skills and opportunities for disabled people to meaningfully engage on the subjects that matter to them.
It is becoming widely accepted that individuals should have a say in the matters that affect them, and that they should be given fair opportunities to express themselves. But this does not always happen in reality, and it can be a particular issue for people with disabilities, who may face additional barriers to effective engagement.
Yet by providing disabled people with the skills to express themselves, and by helping communities to support this, disabled people can become more empowered and actively involved in the world around them.
In response to this, Maryam Bandukda has been building on the work she did through her PhD to empower more individuals and communities in different parts of the world.
“This work is looking not only at extracting people's stories, but how we effectively engage communities and develop skills,” Bandukda explained. “The idea is that the process should be helpful for people – we want to empower them and teach them how to tell their own stories.”
Bandukda’s PhD involved a significant amount of qualitative research to interview blind and partially sighted people about their experiences of open and public spaces. This led Bandukda to coin the PLACES framework (PLan, ACcess, Engage and Share) and to develop the Sense Maps platform, where disabled users will eventually be able to share information on accessibility and the experience of different spaces. There was a strong appetite among the disabled individuals she worked with to become a more active part of initiatives like this, and to help shape the direction of things that matter to them.
Based on this, Bandukda is working with partner organisations in different parts of the world to build skills and capacity for disabled people to be more empowered. One of these projects is working with people with upper limb differences in Sierra Leone, partnering with Koalaa, which makes a variety of upper limb prosthetic devices. They will be working together to discuss how the prosthetics affect their day to day lives, as well as their perceptions of themselves in relation to their disabilities.
Sharing experiences and stories in this way is the first step towards helping individuals to learn the skills they need to tell their own stories. The partner organisations Bandukda is working with are devising ways for disabled people to learn these skills. This will involve workshops, interviews and discussions. Storytelling is not necessarily only through the spoken word either, and the teams are exploring ideas for craft workshops to run in communities where there are strong crafting traditions.
Building storytelling skills among disabled individuals is a crucial step towards helping them to advocate for the things they need. This could be for provisions and assistive technology, or facilities for education or employment. The partner organisations also want to discuss questions such as what disability inclusion means for individuals in specific communities.
Bandukda hopes this work will pave the way towards sharing disabled people’s voices on a wider scale, to increase knowledge and understanding on an international level. “I want to create spaces for disabled people, by disabled people – to share their stories and amplify their impact,” Bandukda said. “We need to think about this from all angles. For example, how can we support not only disabled people in communities, but disabled people who are innovators and entrepreneurs? How can we better facilitate progression and funding for them? There is a lot for us all to learn, but the aim of this work is to amplify disabled people’s stories to create positive impact.”