Storytelling is a universal part of every culture and happens in every language, shaping the way we view the world around us. In every corner of the world, we tell stories and we have been doing it from the dawn of time. When we listen, read or view stories, what usually separates the good and the bad is a narrative's authenticity. We can tell when a story truly captures the voice, perspective and experiences of the storyteller by our gut-feeling alone.
Whether it be in fact or fiction, people living with disability have been excluded from the stage of storytelling. They are often talked about or written about from the perspective of people without disability, causing them to be misrepresented or portrayed as two-dimensional figures, or even written out of the story all together.
This is gradually beginning to change. As the world begins to value lived experience, the perspectives of people with disabilities is being centred more and more, changing the way stories are told, policies are written and attitudes are formed.
This is one of the core principles of The Speak My Language program. We are sharing the stories of people with disabilities from diverse communities, in the languages they speak, from the cultural lens they come from. This is because we believe lived experience is one of the richest sources of knowledge humans have access to.
What is lived experience, you may ask? It simply means that the real and personal experiences of people living with a disability shape the story, sharing the perspective of people who encounter this experience in their daily lives.
Here are some of the reasons why lived experience is so powerful in storytelling:
Lived experience elevates the voices of people with disability.
Traditionally, people living with disability have not been in control of their own story. They are often talked about or written about without being given the chance to offer their input or shape their narrative. This does not only happen in the realm of media and politics, but even in the personal lives of people living with disability, where family, friends or carers may speak for them without being asked to. When we move aside so people with disabilities can share their own stories, we are allowing them to take centre stage. This empowers people with disability to have greater agency, ensuring them they are seen and heard.
Lived experience provides deeper insights and knowledge.
When research and storytelling focuses on lived experiences, it taps into knowledge that people have gained from their experiences and choices during life. This is a valuable source of knowledge because people with disabilities are experts in their own condition, as they have deep and personal understandings of their condition and its implications on every aspect of their lives. When they share their story, they are sharing insights that cannot be gained in any other way, enriching the experience of their listeners.
Lived experience reflects a diversity of experiences.
Experiences of disability are varied and different. There is no single experience, even amongst people who share a specific condition or impairment. When many people can share their stories, it provides a diversity of views, voices and perspectives to view disability through. This allows stories to reflect the true diversity within our communities to broaden our understanding.
Focusing on the stories of people with disability and giving them the control to tell these stories in their own words is incredibly powerful, uplifting the storytellers and enriching the narratives we get to hear and see. Speak My Language is looking forward to launching our podcast series sharing the lived experiences and stories of culturally diverse people living well with a disability.