Telling Our Stories

Telling Our Stories: How The GCDD Storytelling Project is Lifting Voices in the Developmental Disability Community

The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) Storytelling Project lifts and shares the stories of people with developmental disabilities throughout the state of Georgia. Using several mediums, The GCDD Storytelling project has produced a collection of written and photographed stories, a podcast, a documentary film, and a drive-in roadshow of filmed performances. The GCDD Storytelling Project is produced by L’Arche Atlanta through a grant from GCDD.

Beginning in 2018, The GCDD Storytelling Project has connected with people with developmental disabilities and their families by simply asking them to tell their story. Traveling the state, photographers and writers collected more than 150 stories of real life, bravery, challenges, and courage. Selecting stories by district, a book was printed and shared with legislators, allowing advocates to easily show legislators a story from their constituents.

Whether it be speaking with a legislator or a community leader, stories are an effective advocacy tool. “Disability advocacy done in the abstract like ‘this number of people’ or ‘this number of dollars’ can only go so far,” said Tim Moore, Executive Director of L’Arche Atlanta. Moore expanded, explaining that building indirect relationships through storytelling can be influencing.

Throughout the project, L’Arche Atlanta has partnered with organizations and people throughout the state and across the country. This year, L’Arche Atlanta has continued a partnership with StoryMuse to shape the next phase of The GCDD Storytelling Project. Shannon Turner, Founder and Creative Director of StoryMuse, is a storytelling expert that has been involved in most of The GCDD Storytelling Project’s efforts since its creation.

“One of my favorite quotes about this work,” said Turner, “is ‘The shortest distance between two human hearts is a story.’” Following the success of the first phase, The GCDD Storytelling Project began its production of their podcast, Hidden Voices.

“These are funny, heartwarming, challenging stories about people with developmental disabilities who are living, working, and advocating for their rights.” –The GCDD Storytelling Project

The first season of Hidden Voices explores issues affecting people with developmental disabilities with a different topic for each episode. Wide ranging, topics include adaptive technology, employment, education, and advocacy. Describing the second season of Hidden Voices, Turner said “it is a deeper dive through the lens of someone looking to be an advocate.”

L’Arche Atlanta understood the value of the stories already collected and sought new ways to share these intimate glimpses into the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their families. While being featured in a TODAY Original for TODAY.com, L’Arche Atlanta was introduced to two filmmakers, Zach and Lexi Read, in Florida. Moore brought the Reads, L’Arche filmmaker, Michael McDonald, and the Storytelling Project Coordinator, Irene Turner, together, and the “6,000 Waiting” documentary was born. This award-winning documentary featured three Georgians on the Medicaid COMP/NOW Waiver waitlist. Named “6,000 Waiting,” the film flagged that there were 6,000 people with developmental disabilities in Georgia in the need of services available through Medicaid Waivers. This is a staggeringly high number of individuals compared to the rest of the country. Unfortunately, this number has surpassed 7,000 since the film’s production.

“Three Georgia residents with disabilities fight to access NOW/ COMP Waiver funding that would allow them to live life on their own terms. A life guaranteed by their Olmstead rights. What happens when people with disabilities want to live outside of nursing facilities and in the community?” –6,000 Waiting

Disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic required The GCDD Storytelling Project to find a creative way to connect with people safely without spreading the coronavirus. The GCDD Storytelling Project began to accept 30-second clips virtually to create “Over the Wire.” People were asked to choose a question from a list and film themselves answering the question. Clips from “Over the Wire” were shared on social media by GCDD and L’Arche Atlanta.

As the pandemic continued, The GCDD Storytelling Project developed Treasure Maps, a short film featuring stories and performances from Georgians with developmental disabilities. Participants were asked to share their story however they wanted, resulting in a range of presentations from Elvis impressions to cooking shows. This film was shared virtually and at pop-up drive-in theaters in six communities throughout Georgia.

“Treasure Maps is a collection of short films showcasing 10 Georgia storytellers as they provide an up- close and personal viewpoint into what it’s like navigating the complex webs of life in our communities as a person with a developmental disability.” –The GCDD Storytelling Project

Looking forward toward the next phase of The GCDD Storytelling Project, plans include producing 16 new written and photographed stories and another Treasure Maps film. This Treasure Maps film will focus on Central Georgia, specifically the Macon-area, pulling in stories from the local community. The Treasure Maps film was kicked off with a five-week class about how to tell stories. At the end of the workshop, stories will be selected and highlighted at a community celebration.

This strategic focus supports GCDD’s goal of reaching new voices from marginalized populations. “GCDD has an explicit strategy to get outside of Atlanta,” said Moore. Targeted populations include African Americans, Latinx, LGBTQ, and rural areas.

If you’re interested in joining The GCDD Storytelling Project, contact Shannon Turner at ddstorytellingga@gmail.com or by phone at (678) 837-6681.

You can access these amazing stories from The GCDD Storytelling Project at story-collection.gcdd.org.