We Are the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Welcome and Introduction

Welcome to the eighth annual Disability and Change Symposium 2021. As we come to the end of one full year of our response to the pandemic, we have all been adjusting to new ways of communicating, gathering, working, and learning. This year's Symposium format embraces what we've learned so far—the best of both worlds, a hybrid format including a live webinar followed by an on-line mini course. We hope that this new format makes the materials available to more populations, providing free and accessible curricular content to a wide variety of participants who become contributors to the experience.

A few words of thanks. First, and foremost, we are thankful to all who take advantage of this content. It is with you in mind that we strive to make accessible quality content available for all lifelong learners. We are also thankful to our speakers for sharing their scholarship, expertise, and experiences and who have given us permission to record and disseminate this content to the public. Finally, we are grateful to our many Temple University sponsors, including the Center for The Humanities at Temple (CHAT), the Faculty Senate, and Disability Resources and Services, who provide the resources for this event including the means to help compensate our speakers an equitable rate.

Please know we are all evolving our engagement methods and we welcome your continued feedback.

Sally Gould-Taylor, PhD
Executive Director
Institute on Disabilities at Temple University College of Education and Human Development

About the Theme and Objectives

The annual symposium is organized by the Institute on Disabilities with support from the Interdisciplinary Council on Disabilities and the Center for Humanities at Temple (CHAT). Every year, our theme focuses on cultural equity and disability with an eye to the past, present, and future constructs of disability.

Historically and typically, discussions about disability are about some of "us" or some of "them." The #DisChange21 theme is about "us"—all of us. This year, with the shared experience of navigating the pandemic, many have a different understanding of the construction of "disability" as something anticipated, actual, or perceived. The pandemic provides a lens through which to view the complexity of disability. Disability can be: on a spectrum; temporary; permanent; static; evolving; fluid; sudden or emergent. Anyone can become disabled at anytime during their lifespan. It is, after all, a natural part of the human condition. (DDAct and Bill of Rights)

This year's theme celebrates all of us. Not what is said about us, but what we say about ourselves, to ourselves!

A story is our—all of us—we are the stories we tell ourselves. In this universe, and this existence, where we live with this duality of whether we exist or not and who are we, the stories we tell ourselves are the stories that define the potentialities of our existence. We are the stories we tell ourselves. So that's as wide as we look at stories. A story is the relationship that you develop between who you are, or who you potentially are, and the infinite world, and that's our mythology.
— Shekhar Kapur


Our speakers will explore the nature of self-story-telling (narrative identity), how to harness the healing effects—providing sanctuary to the self, and what happens to our stories as they encounter mass/social media which can feel like a proxy for the infinite world.

We invite you to actively participate by adding your voice, your story to the conversation through the "six-word memoir" exercise below.

We hope that you will share your feedback with us.

Questions? Please contact Kate Fialowski at iod@temple.edu.


Course Completion Time

Course time ranges from ~2 hours for live/recorded media content up to 5 hours for the full course including background reading, additional resources, and reflection.

Mini-Course Objectives

  • Understand the external factors that shape disability narratives
  • Apply the understanding of these factors to our own narrative identity
  • Create self-narratives through #SixWordMemoir

Recorded Media Content (~ 2 hours)


Student Panel (Length: 51:14)

Symposium welcome begins at 2:15.


Keynote Panel (Length: 49:13)


Symposium Panelists


Keynote Panel

Two Pioneers share their concepts of storytelling – their own and how narratives of others are shaped.

  • Lydia XZ Brown, Policy Counsel for the Privacy & Data Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology

    Lydia speaks about the way ableism shapes the stories we tell ourselves and each other about disability both in our own lives/experiences and in those of others around us. Specifically, they talk a little bit about the ways ableism shows up rhetorically at the macro-level, as well as the ways ableism inhibits our ability to grapple with disability as a coherent, viable, and desirable mode of identification, let alone a means of accessing and building culture, community, and political organizing.

    More about Lydia XZ Brown

  • Judy Rubin, PhD, ATR-BC, HLM

    Judy tells the story of how expectations and stereotypes have affected when, why and how individuals with a variety of disabilities have been offered the opportunity to create in art. This includes how these expectations and opportunities have evolved over time, as well as the stories disabled individuals are enabled to find, to know and to tell through the arts. Judy also shares her own story of learning from those with disabilities with whom I have worked, including the inspiring story of a disabled person who was able to help others to find & tell their stories through art (Mickie McGraw). Judy's segment includes short black and white clips which are captioned and described.

    More about Judy Rubin


Student Panel

Students share their stories.


  • Ableism is a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be "fixed" in one form or the other. (Center for Disability Rights, 2020)
  • Crip - The current use of the word "crip" is a reclamation of a word that was previously used as derogatory and used for self-empowerment.
  • Disability Justice is an understanding that able-bodied supremacy has been formed in relation to other systems of domination and exploitation ... A single-issue civil rights framework is not enough to explain the full extent of ableism and how it operates in society. We can only truly understand ableism by tracing its connections to heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism... A disability justice framework understands that: All bodies are unique and essential; All bodies have strengths and needs that must be met; We are powerful, not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them; All bodies are confined by ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation state, religion, and more, and we cannot separate them. (What is Disability Justice? — Sins Invalid)
  • Identity-first language places the disability-related word first in a phrase. People who prefer identity-first language for themselves often argue that their disability is an important part of who they are, or that they wouldn't be the same person without their disability. For some people, identity-first language is about a shared community, culture, and identity. Identity-first language is also about thinking about disability as a type of diversity instead of something to be ashamed of. (Austistic Self Advocacy Network, Identity-First Language)
  • Person-first language is used to speak appropriately and respectfully about an individual with a disability. Person-first language emphasizes the individual first, not the disability. For example, when referring to a person with a disability, refer to the person first by using phrases such as: "a person who ...", "a person with ..." or, "person who has..." (CDC, 2020)

Your Turn (~1 hour)

Choose one of the activities below:

  • Reflection: Consider "ableism" and other external factors that shape disability narratives. How does external messaging shape our internal stories?
  • Reflection: How do external factors shape your own "narrative identity"?
  • Distill your narrative identity into your own Six Word Memoir*. We hope you will join the conversation. If you do not have a Temple University email address, post your Six Word Memoir or image on social media using the following tags: #DisChange21 #SixWordMemoir. If you have a temple.edu address, please use this MSForm.
  • Reflection: Given the topic is storytelling, and to tell the stories of others, we must acknowledge and be sensitive to the historical context of language. In what ways has historical language and/or the descriptors related to disabilities altered/changed/impacted your work professionally and personally. How do you see language to change the discourse?
  • Reflection: In the classic 1959 book "The Sociological Imagination," Sociologist C. Wright Mills argues that our lives are shaped by the intersections of our own personal biographies and history. Will you address this notion—when history meets biography — as it relates to disability justice and the re/telling of stories, and narrative art though traditional and multimedia approaches.

* Note About Six Word Memoirs: Six word memoirs are "short-form storytelling for self-expression, focus, and connection," created by Larry Smith, author of the Six-Word Memoir series and this literary sub-genre. Six Word Memoirs, poetry, and other alternative narrative forms create alternatives for narratives without having to follow an anticipated narrative arc with a "happy ending" of disability overcoming. For more information on creating Six Word Memoirs: Six-Word Memoirs – One Life, Six Words. What's Yours?.

Resources (~2 hours)


Story-telling Resources

Recommended Reading

  • McAdams, D. P. (2019). "First we invented stories, then they changed us": The Evolution of Narrative Identity. Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, 3(1), 1+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A595569746/AONE?u=temple_main&sid=AONE&xi...

    Abstract: "An integrative psychological concept that bridges the sciences and humanities, narrative identity is the internalized and evolving story a person invents to explain how he or she has become the person he or she is becoming. Combining the selective reconstruction of the past with an imagined anticipated future, narrative identity provides human lives with a sense of unity, moral purpose, and temporal coherence. In this article, I discuss how the evolution of human storytelling provides the basic tools for constructing self-defining life narratives. I then consider theory and research on the development of narrative identity over the human life course, socially consequential variations in narrative identity, and how culture shapes the stories people tell about themselves. My overall perspective on narrative identity was formulated within the fields of personality and developmental psychology, but it is also informed by concepts and constructs in evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and literary studies."

  • Transgender Studies Quarterly, 2014-05, Vol.1 (1-2), p.121-122 The full edition of Transgender Studies Quarterly is available for free online.

    As we consider the use of a mere six words for memoirs, each of the six words holds a position of equal power. Consideration for individual words, words of power, words of meaning, and words with tremendous history, we recommend reflecting on this edition of Transgender Quarterly.

    Abstract: This section includes eighty-six short original essays commissioned for the inaugural issue of . Written by emerging academics, community-based writers, and senior scholars, each essay in this special issue, “Postposttranssexual: Key Concepts for a Twenty-First-Century Transgender Studies,” revolves around a particular keyword or concept. Some contributions focus on a concept central to transgender studies; others describe a term of art from another discipline or interdisciplinary area and show how it might relate to transgender studies. While far from providing a complete picture of the field, these keywords begin to elucidate a conceptual vocabulary for transgender studies. Some of the submissions offer a deep and resilient resistance to the entire project of mapping the field terminologically; some reveal yet-unrealized critical potentials for the field; some take existing terms from canonical thinkers and develop the significance for transgender studies; some offer overviews of well-known methodologies and demonstrate their applicability within transgender studies; some suggest how transgender issues play out in various fields; and some map the productive tensions between trans studies and other interdisciplines.

Technology Requirements and Accessibility


Technology Requirements
In order to use the resources listed for this virtual seminar, participants need to have access to an Internet connection and a computer or a smart phone with audio/video capabilities. No special software is required.

Accessibility Statement
Live webinar: The live webinar included CART live transcription and American Sign Language interpretation throughout. During the webinar, the Q&A feature was enabled so that the audience could submit questions at any time. Recorded content: With permission from the speakers, the webinar was recorded. The recorded media includes both the ASL and CART captions.

All materials are free and publicly available.