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People with disabilities team up with university students to create person-centered digital stories.

Combining efforts of schools and local community agencies serving people with disabilities to break down communication barriers.

Photo of Allan B Goldstein
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What problem does your idea solve?

Discrimination limits employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Including people with disabilities in the university setting to raise awareness of typical students and increase self-esteem of PWDs. PWDs have gone on to participate in the work force, some designing assistive technology, such as a stylus to enable people with finger mobility issues to use keyboards and touch-pads. Students have changed their professional goals from "me-me, I-I" to service professions.

Explain your idea

Communication is education. By enabling people with and without disabilities to work closely together on a project oriented course, all involved not only get an important story out, but also widen their personal horizons.

Who benefits?

Society benefits. More and more industries demand experience with disability before employment. People with disabilities enhance their skills and self-esteem sufficiently to enter the workforce, creating a larger purchasing market and taxpayer base. The PWD designed and manufactured stylus for people with finger dexterity issues, enabling use of an iPad and adapted for painters, is now patented and a thriving business. Others are winning jobs! All learn the importance of independence.

How is your idea unique?

Including people with disabilities in a course designated as Disability Studies makes learning unforgettable--for all involved, as reported in end-of-semester participant self-reflections (see attachment). Some courses have students visit PWDs at their residences or day programs. Having PWDs attend class in a university setting includes them in a part of society they don't typically see and that rarely sees them.

Tell us more about you

As a university senior lecturer, my intention is to share this method of teaching to increase worldwide awareness of the abilities of people living with disabilities. By making the "invisible visible" we are showing that we all can learn; we all want work and love. We are all variations on the theme of being human.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

Reaching other learning communities.

Where will your idea be implemented?

  • Kenya

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

Expertise in Sector

  • I've worked in a sector related to my idea for more than a year.

Organizational Status

  • We don't intend to register / don't need to in order to implement our idea successfully.

Idea Maturity

  • Mature Growth/Currently Operating: I am currently implementing this idea but may still be iterating.
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Attachments (3)

Reasons for Experiential learning-2.docx

Students provide self-evaluations at the start of the course, i.e., what is your experience with disability. At the very end of the course, they provide self-reflections, i.e., what has happened to you during the past 14 weeks. Attached are examples of student self-reflections.


Attached is a typical syllabus for the semester. Teams are comprised of one person with a disability (PWD) and one or two typical students. All involved discuss weekly assigned readings/videos, as well as focus on the digital story. Students also write personal experience essays based on the readings' themes. Many PWDs participate for several semesters and are therefore referred to as consultants--they help me teach about living with disability. Self-advocates are the best advocates.

Disability is not a disaster, it is a different way of living. We are all variations on the theme of being human.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Isaac Jumba

Hi Team 
Good to see the progress of the idea and the thoughts, insights and comments from different people. I hope to see it being piloted.
I would love to tag Christa from embracekulture in Uganda. She also has an interesting idea posted here on the challenge:
She has lots of experience in raising awareness on disability in Uganda and it will be great to have hear her thoughts and possible collaboration on this.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Isaac. It'd be great to have embracekulture / Christa comment on the idea and see if she has thoughts on how to pilot the program in Uganda. Christa, keep in mind that the course could be adapted to specific contexts. Thanks!

Photo of embracekulture null

Hello Anne,

My question is what is the deliverable? Is this designed to be a course for students to take at Universities, a training program for teachers, a student organization? What age group are you targeting?

I really like the idea of open exchange between all people. This direct exchange and involvement, working together, is critical to combat the negative stigma faced by children with disabilities around the world.

From Uganda, the country I am based, my main concern would be that most persons with disabilities are excluded from Universities. 96% of children with disabilities do not continue to secondary school. Perhaps targeting a younger population would allow us to break down stereotypes and negative stigma early.

Also what tools do you plan to use (mobile phones, ipads, etc)?

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

embracekulture  thank you for your response. I'm adding Allan Goldstein who is the person who designed the curriculum and is teaching it at NYU. In its current more it is a university-level course but I believe that Allan would be open to experiment based on the context and needs of a country. Readng your project, I could imagine seeing Allan's model adapted to a younger group. Again today if you look at the video posted by Allan, his students use videos and editing system but I can imagine using different tools. It reminds me of an organization in India with whom I was in touch in a previous challenge and how used digital story telling to discuss issues around gender and sexuality The age group mentioned on the website is 14 - 25 but I remember that they have similar programs with younger kids... although I'm not sure they were in primary schools. With some funding for the pilot I can also imagine having some resources for technology and also for technical support. This could also provide training opportunities for teachers or youth. I could also imagine having a group of students working with Allan coming to do a pilot for 2 / 3 weeks to work with the teachers and the kids.
Christa, what age group would you envision? what kind of technology would make the most sense?
Thanks Christa for your feedback and questions!

Photo of embracekulture null

I think beginning at the primary school level is critical. We currently have a Best Buddies program that we launched in Uganda to begin to create pairs and friendships at this level. It has been very successful in breaking down stigma and fostering friendship. We paired students from a secondary school with those at a special needs school (inclusion is still in process in Uganda). There were a few issues we encountered that you might as well. The biggest of which is time. Students were able to visit after school once a week. They could not do more because of other commitments and studies.

I mean this question in the most respectful way - is technology necessary? I think benefits of the program are creating dialogue and encouraging diverse groups to work together. This can be done with paper and pencil or even better acting? Many schools put on shows at the end of school terms. Perhaps a group could do story telling through performance.

Photo of Allan B Goldstein

Hello embracekulture and Christa,
Thank you for your interest in the teaching method. You highlight the reason why the course exists--to introduce groups of people that typically never see one another, and worse, only have imaginings of who the other is. In our case, PWDs are invited to observe life on a university campus while being guests in an actual course, and university students have the opportunity to not only speak with a PWD, but work closely with her. Students not in the course become accustomed to seeing PWDs on campus and becpme eager to enroll in a future semester. Our course is a credit-bearing course for university students; we partner with two different agencies that serve PWDs--CP and ID/D, as we have grown to two sections. I see no reason for an age barrier: children are children; adults are adults. We all want work and love, of which you are well-aware--the teaching method is all about de-stigmatizing disability. This program can easily succeed in a high school or younger environment. I think the method would also work with a company having employees who want to do something long-range and socially oriented. The company would partner with an agency.

Typical people in the course bring home their discoveries, thus instantly becoming advocates, breaking down the barriers between people with and without disability.

Tools are simple or ornate--mobile phones, iPads work just fine. If access to a camera, that is fine too. I've begun bringing in a documentary filmmaker to discuss technique and critique 1st cuts and a sound editor to demonstrate the simpleness of editing with iMovie--I entertain entering a future digital story into a film festival. That said, the course is all about process--the products never fail because of the sincere, personal content. Sound is not an issue if two phones are used at the same time; an inexpensive lavaliere mike works wonders.

Please write with other thoughts/questions.
PS--just saw a note from Anne-Laure Fayard. Digital is not the only way to go. The original digital stories were video of still photos. The point of digital is we are then able to tell our stories across a great divide--people in Brooklyn share their stories with people in Uganda. But if devices are an issue, any project that combines the input of an oppressed group member and a typical group member as a team should do the trick for showing that all people are people first.

Photo of Allan B Goldstein

Tech is not necessary to introduce two different groups--it is the process not the product that matters. The point of digital stories is to be able to share product across borders, permitting a person in Brooklyn to share his or her story with a person in Uganda. But the main point of the course is to enable the interaction of two groups that typically never meet. Best Buddies is successful in putting together people with and without disabilities, but having initiated and advised such a group at my former university, I remember the requirements to be phone calls once a week, and meeting twice a month, one of those meetings being a group activity. The teaching method we propose is a bit more intense, as all involved have the responsibility to produce a product, which can be a talent show, an art show, a dance or a theatre production, as you suggest. So yes, storytelling on stage is powerful--just tape the performance and it can be seen again and again. The process of arriving at the story throughline is the same.

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