By Brooke Brown, author
Aside from the Love and Grace of God in Heaven, there is nothing in the world more boundless than captivating stories. We all know the power of fantasy and fiction. Our favorite books, movies, T.V. shows, plays and even role-playing video games can let us escape, encourage us and relate to our troubles when it seems like no one else does. But, sometimes it’s easy to forget that everyone, from any walk of life, carries their own stories with them at all times. Think about the last conversation you had. My guess is many of you were telling a story. We all do it, everyday, several times a day. Everyone at any age, in any condition or circumstance can appreciate a good story. Whether it’s when we snag a few minutes with a friend to relay how the tiniest action altered our entire day or explaining how one’s past experiences makes them the best candidate for the job to a potential employer, we all want what we share to be interesting enough to make connections and reveal our most accurate portrait. It is the building of relationships through the exchange of our personal stories that allows us to achieve mutual understanding on such a deeper level that we gain the ability to end the perpetuation of unwarranted assumptions and instead, initiate truly positive change in the society surrounding us.
I strongly believe that on some level every person wants to be acknowledged, accepted and treated as “equal” by society at large, no matter how they may protest otherwise. This is especially true for those of us in the disabled community. It’s the most basic principle behind the “Universal Access” movement, which strives to provide access to ALL public facilities to ALL people on ALL mobility levels. There are those who describe people with disabilities as having “special needs,” but different does not constitute special. No two people, disabled or not, have the same abilities, strengths or weaknesses. And so, if we’re being honest, no one should receive more or less than what’s equal. Equal care. Equal respect. Equal opportunity. In one way or another, we are passionate about our shared goals. And in my opinion, the most effective way to initiate the positive advancements in equality, for which we are always advocating is to change the perceptions of those who may be “differently-abled” from ourselves on a personal level; telling one story at a time. With each unique story will come greater mutual understanding, which leads to more open doors for new possibilities.
In this technology driven age, we are constantly inundated with conflicting messages. On one hand we are encouraged to capitalize on our own individually. Speak out, break the mold. And on the other hand, we’re told we should blend in –just do our jobs. Well, as a person living with a disability, both things are a bit tricky for me. Being born with moderately severe cerebral palsy has made the majority of my muscles, including the ones used for speaking clearly, extremely obstinate. My limbs are largely unwilling to do what I ask, no matter how much I coax and plead. This obviously limits my mobility and in turn, my capability to do just any old job I can find. Therein lies the reason creativity is essential to my survival. But, there again, that means I have to get people to stick around long enough after they hear my restricted voice to realize that, “oh yeah, she is actually home with all the lights on.” Even if they can read a description of my background, skills and achievements, they often need to be given something more emotionally tangible in order to bridge the gap in understanding. This is where the blessing and power of storytelling comes in handy.
I share my own stories in many various forms, each one as intensely personal as the next. Some of them are things like those videos seen on my YouTube Channel, in which I used the Proloquo2go AAC app on my phone to be understood.
I’m also able to connect with those that watch me dance or do Pilates by explaining that while I have to rely on my power chair for my general mobility, I still enjoy being physically active and pushing the limits of my body. Not to mention that when you have cerebral palsy, regular exercise is your best shot at getting your muscles to cooperate on a daily basis. Similarly, anyone who reads my written work will quickly realize I have many of the same thought processes, emotions, desires and goals as any other 30 something typically-abled woman, even though my speech may be difficult to understand. Situations like these have often led me to other rewarding opportunities as well. For example, I landed a paid freelance writing assignment at Scottsdale Community College because I started corresponding with the lovely lady who wrote an article about the Uniquely Abled dance class I was taking at the time. Furthermore, I’ve utilized my life stories as anecdotes for inspiration in motivational speeches and as supporting evidence for policy change at advocacy events. Performing with and writing “true-to-life” scenes with Improbable Theatre Company also allows me to further illuminate my personality and experiences, beyond my disability by expanding my artistic range.
Our personal stories, however they come, are our most powerful tools. They will take us farther than any combination of facts and figures. People can share their personal stories and/or experiences in whatever form they find most effective, such as powerpoint slides, video or pictures with music, a script to be performed, or a traditional written narrative. The possible formats for a story are really endless. And almost any creative media program can work alongside an AAC device. It really comes down to the storyteller’s style and the message they wish to convey. The most important element in any story with the power to effect change is the voice behind it. That’s the thing about our favorite stories – it’s not the plots that we remember forever; it’s the dynamic characters that touch souls and make permanent impressions in the mind.
Are you ready to discover the power in your story?
Communicators In Action