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I *heart* StoryCorps

Dear StoryCorps,

Will you be my valentine?

Image of an Asian American woman in a wheelchair holding a paper sign that reads, "I [heart symbol] StoryCorps"
Alice Wong, Founder and Project Coordinator of the Disability Visibility Project

xoxo,

Disability Visibility Project

So Many Reasons

There are a lot of reasons why I love StoryCorps, but I’ll speak from my experience as a one-time interviewee, an interviewer of over 16 people, and a community partner.

Asian American woman in a wheelchair in the middle of the image on her left and right are two other individuals, staff members of StoryCorps San Francisco. All three are in front of a metal StoryCorps recording booth
StoryCorps facilitators Yosmay del Mazo (left), Geraldine Ah-Sue (right) with Alice Wong (center). Not pictured: Như Tiên Lữ, Regional Manager, San Francisco StoryBooth.

I started the Disability Visibility Project (DVP), a community partnership with StoryCorps, almost two years ago. The staff at all three StoryCorps locations (Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco) and their Mobile Tour enthusiastically embraced this campaign to collect and record the stories of people with disabilities. I’ve had many thoughtful conversations with StoryCorps staff and volunteers about accessibility and inclusion–it’s definitely been an exchange of ideas we all benefited from.

Two people standing profile facing the left side of a room, in the backdrop is a projector screen with the words, "StoryCorps" in large orange letters
StoryCorps San Francisco Audio Workshop for Community Partners, June 2015
Image of a projection screen that features a screenshot of the Disability Visibility Project website. On the upper left hand corner is a photo of an Asian American woman in glasses.
Presentation by Alice Wong, Disability Visibility Project, for StoryCorps community partners on using social media effectively, June 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I learned a lot about mission of StoryCorps and respect their commitment to engage with as many diverse populations as possible. StoryCorps, through their interactions with participants from the DVP, became aware of certain issues and responded as an organization. For example, they added Braille to the printed cards they use to prompt each participant at the start of the interview. The recording booth in San Francisco now has a table that drops down to provide more turning space for wheelchair users. During one interview, we were able to fit 4 humans (facilitator, interviewer, interviewee, interpreter) and 1 service animal in the recording booth!

An Asian American woman in a wheelchair next to a young African American woman who knelt down to the same height as the wheelchair user. Between these two people is Maxine, a German shepherd service animal. The three of them are in front of a StoryCorps recording booth.StoryCorps conducted a survey about their website and services to gain a sense of areas that need attention and focus. Yosmay del Mazo from StoryCorps San Francisco created a great video providing a detailed overview of the recording process, accessibility features, and physical layout of the location:

I hope having these kinds of experiences with the disability community broadened StoryCorps’ practices and knowledge.

If you are interested in forming a community partnership with StoryCorps, I highly recommend it. You don’t have to run a non-profit or represent an actual organization–all you need is a community that wants to tell their unique stories and a willingness to encourage people to participate.

Tips from a Super Fan

If you have the opportunity to record your story or interview someone you know and love at StoryCorps, please do so! It’s never too late and it couldn’t be easier. Here are some tips I learned as a super fan/interviewer:

  1. Everyone has a story. Select someone you know well or someone that you are curious about. I interviewed close friends and family and people who I only know of through social media. Don’t be afraid of approaching someone you don’t know well as long as you have a genuine interest in their life and work. Image of two women in wheelchairs. On the left is an Asian woman with glasses and wearing a red hoodie. On the right is an African American woman with short black hair and a black shirt.
  2. Reservations. If you make a reservation online and don’t see any dates or times available, check their website at the beginning of each month–this is when they typically release additional dates.
  3. Free! StoryCorps is a real community gem–anyone can participate and it’s free. While you need a credit card to secure an online reservation, you can call their toll-free number if you do not have a credit card: 1-800-850-4406.
  4. Pre-Interview. Before the actual appointment, I outline a few brief questions or topics I want to explore during the interview.  If I have a friend that’s nervous, I’ll send a list of questions ahead of time so they can prepare. Here are great questions and what to expect from StoryCorps that can also help. Image of two people in a recording booth with microphones angled near their faces. On the left is a Latino man in a wheelchair using a nasal mask for respiratory support. On the right is an Asian woman in a wheelchair with glasses. They are in conversation with one another.
  5. Interviewing. Once the interview starts, remember to keep it loose and have fun! Keep your eyes on the interviewee and listen carefully–let the person’s responses guide you on what to ask next. Ask follow-up questions if you are intrigued by something and want more details. Observe the way the person responds verbally and non-verbally to see if they are uncomfortable, annoyed or having trouble understanding your question. This isn’t a live radio show so you don’t have to be polished or have a smooth transition when you change subjects or repeat/re-phrase a question.Image of two white women in a recording studio. The one in the center has a mohawk w/ pink highlights. She is wearing glasses. The woman on the right side has short red hair and she is smiling.
  6. Keep it chill. Stay patient and let the person pause if they are thinking of something to say. Silence offers a chance for reflection by both you and the interviewee. Don’t feel like you have to fill the empty air with your opinions or reactions. Keep the focus on the interviewee and allow them the space to just be.A room with dimmed lighting, two people are sitting across from one another with microphones in front of them. On the left is a middle-aged white woman in a wheelchair with long brown hair. On her right, facing her, is a middle-aged white man with short brown hair.
  7. Wrapping Up. More often than not, I don’t even finish half of my prepared questions. Forty minutes fly by fast in the recording booth. It’s the truth! When the facilitator gestures that there are 10 minutes left, this is the time to bring up the one essential thing you want to ask. I usually take a peek and check my list at that point.

The Fruits of Your Labor

As I mentioned earlier, a 40-minute session at StoryCorps goes by fast and I always feel invigorated afterward. It’s exciting to go into an interview with a guess at how it’ll go only to be surprised at the direction of the conversation and what you both shared and revealed.

Image of several orange envelopes with the word StoryCorps and CDs arranged in a row.
I have oodles and oodles of CDs from StoryCorps.

All participants have the option to archive their recording with the Library of Congress and each interview pair shares 1 CD with their audio file. If I take the CD, I’ll upload the file on Google drive and share it with the other person or vice versa if they want to keep it.

Having something you can take home and share is one of the nicest benefits from the StoryCorps experience. You can use your recording anyway you want: post audio clips on social media, blog about it, use it for professional or advocacy purposes, or keep it as a personal momento. For those who cannot go to a StoryCorps location, consider using their smartphone app.

I hope you’ll consider sharing your story and find it as rewarding as I do.

Asian American woman in a wheelchair in front of a StoryCorps recording booth. A blue caption bubble says, "Thank you!"

 

Links to Stuff

Ways to Participate in the Disability Visibility Project: https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/how-to-participate/

Excerpts from Interviews for the DVP: https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/category/storycorps-interviews/

About Alice Wong and the Disability Visibility Project: https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/about/

StoryCorps: https://storycorps.org

 

 

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