Module 2: Introduction to Digital Methods for Disability Studies
2.5 Introduction to Digital Storytelling
What are digital stories?
Digital stories are a type of personal narrative presentation mediated through a combination of images, text, narration, and video. Although typically short videos between two and 10 minutes, some are much longer to suit the demands of specific projects (see for example Benick, 2011). Digital stories are largely understood as holding therapeutic, educational, research, and advocacy potential (Morris, 2019; Rice, 2020).
How are digital stories made?
Digital stories are made using different applications and software depending on availability, accessibility, and familiarity to the maker. The tools that you can use are extensive such as Avatar Maker (https://avatarmaker.com/), Microsoft PowerPoint, MovieMaker, Storyboardthat.com (https://www.storyboardthat.com/), Pixton.com (https://www.pixton.com/), and more. Sometimes, people tell digital stories using just the digital tools at hand. For example, Bandi-Rao and Sepp (2014) offered students the option to use their phones for images and either index cards or a digital storyboarding program depending on their preference.
Principles of Digital Storytelling
Dana Atchley and Joe Lambert founded digital storytelling through the creation of StoryCenter in 1993 (De Jager et al., 2017). Find out more about StoryCenter here: https://www.storycenter.org/history
Seven Principles of StoryCenter (as quoted in Benick, 2011)
- A first-person experience is relayed through the story through a specific point-of-view;
- A dramatic question drives the action of the story and sustains the creative tension;
- Emotional content explores the author’s inner feelings;
- The storyteller’s voice is recorded in a voiceover;
- A powerful soundtrack establishes the mood of the digital story and changes the way the viewer perceives the visual information;
- It has an economical structure built on a small number of images and video, as well as relatively short text;
- There is attention to pacing or the rhythm of the story.
Below is the digital story Shift, written by Eliza Chandler through StoryCenter. While watching, consider how this video demonstrates the seven principles. How long is the video? What question drives the narrative? Did any sound or visual choices change the way you perceived the story?
Since 2002, Joe Lambert has developed these principles into a ‘cookbook’. Check out this link and think about how digital storytelling is evolving: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55368c08e4b0d419e1c011f7/t/5900fb1637c5814c17f8258c/1493236524897/cookbook_full.pdf
Seven Storytelling Steps (from Lambert’s cookbook, 2010)
- Owning your insights;
- Owning your emotions;
- Finding the moment;
- Seeing your story;
- Hearing your story;
- Assembling your story;
- Sharing your story.
These seven principles (and the seven cookbook steps) distinguish digital stories from any other type of video-based project. One thing to keep in mind when thinking about these principles is that StoryCenter typically proceeds from the point-of-view of the storyteller, i.e. we are always telling our own stories. However, some storytellers might suggest that digital stories can take other or multiple points-of-view. Later in the Pressbook, when we take up interactive games as a form of digital storytelling, we will explore this further in how we can trouble dominant or established points-of-view.
Digital Storytelling is a technology-dependent format but it can still be challenging and emotional due to the personal nature of the narratives, which may bring up experiences of trauma, conflict, and harm. However, digital storytelling is also an opportunity to create and share counter-narratives of resistance. Counter-narratives are stories that are presented as an alternative to the dominant ideas about the world. For example, a dominant story might be that disabled people can overcome all barriers just through hard work and willpower. A counter-narrative might focus on the institutional structures that maintain these barriers or the joy in self-made access and disability community.
Digital storytelling has the power to challenge the status quo in a number of ways:
- As an empowering tool for marginalized people to share their personal narratives
- Digital stories typically use accessible and relatable language.
- By focusing on personal narratives, they draw in the audience and form points of relationship and identity around issues that may not commonly appear in the public sphere.
For example, Lind et al. (2018) describe how a digital storytelling project was used to reimagine the temporality of queer fat bodies. Because of its use of digital mediums, it allowed the makers and audiences to move away from a text-based understanding of queerness and fatness. As another example, Morris (2019) documented digital storytelling as a participatory learning experience towards restorative justice. Here is an example of such a project (please note that captions are auto-generated):
Digital storytelling can also be used for self-advocacy. In a South African project focused on combating the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, students decided that they wanted to share their digital stories with their families and communities (Mnisi, 2015). By documenting and sharing their experiences with larger audiences, digital storytellers have an opportunity to influence how we think about stories of chronic illness, disability, and difference. To find many examples of disabled, mad, and Deaf people’s digital stories, check out ReVision Centre for Art and Social Justice: https://revisioncentre.ca/projects. For another example, take a look at the digital story created by X UniversityDisability Studies student Thaisa Hunte below. While watching, consider how her story reverses the gaze. How is this different from dominant ways of viewing disability?