Story+ Project

What's Past is Prologue:  Exploring the intersectionality between race, justice, and disability in North Carolina


In this Story+ project, we will explore the intersection of health, disability and race on social justice and the expression of human rights among North Carolinians.  Even though the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 30th year of existence in July 2020, there remains much work to be done to achieve the aspirational goal of equal rights for all.  In many ways the COVID19 pandemic has shown America that we may not all be equal, and in this Story+ project we will hear the voices and share the stories of people from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities who live with a disability across North Carolina. We set out on this explorative and investigative journey with 2 overarching aims, but declare our humility and recognize that these may change over time; (1) To explore the interaction of race, justice and disability among the BIPOC community in North Carolina.  Here, we will interview North Carolinians with disabilities, hear and document their lived experiences, and then work and collaborate to creatively share their stories and experiences, and (2) To provide unique opportunities for Duke graduate and undergraduate students to deepen their own personal journey of developing humility, knowledge, understanding and respect for others of different abilities.  Building on these essential competencies of caring and responsible citizenship, we aspire as a collective to become more understanding of challenges faced by BIPOC North Carolinians with disabilities.

The primary mode of communication or animation of our findings will be through the design and production of the storyline of a Mass Open Online Course (MOOC) on this important and emerging topic of consequence.  The outputs of this project will also be linked to a 2021-2022 extension of an existing Bass Connection project titled, ‘Leave No One Behind: Exploring the Impact of the COVID19 Pandemic on People with Disabilities (PWDs) in North Carolina'.


The most important skill graduate or undergraduate students who chooses to participate in this project is an interest and ability to discover complex humanistic stories regarding disability, and creatively transform these into visual media for wide consumption and distribution.  While not each student will have all essential skills, the collective team should have a mix of the following; motivational interviewing skills, video editing skills, video story telling experience, strong creative writing and narration skills, humility and a sense of social justice. While it is not necessary that the students have experience with disability (either personally, or within their family and community) it would be advantageous if some members of the group have an awareness and some experience. A final skill is an ability to be focused on a task, committed to delivering on the outputs, and willing to use and develop sophisticated collaborative skills and competencies to achieve our outcome within a 6-week window.

Project Sponsor(s): 

Michel D. Landry BScPT, MBA, PhD; Professor, School of Medicine (Orthopaedic Surgery), Duke Global Health Institute, and the Duke-Margolis Centre for Health Policy

Raj Telhan MD MFA; Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill NC

Graduate Mentor(s): 

Bryan Rusch, PhD student Art, Art History & Visual Studies


Kaelyn Griffiths, Josee Li, Binisha Patel


The What is Past is Prologue Team leveraged the product-oriented project of the PI Sponsor, Dr. Michel Landry, with the individual personal and professional growth objectives of the individual research members, Kaelyn Griffiths, Josee Li, and Binisha Patel, and the Project Manager, Bryan Rusch. The project’s goal was to develop a foundation from which a Bass Connections team the next semester could build a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) from, integrating marginalized voices of disabled individuals from the BIPOC community to shed light on cultural, health care, and policy inequalities in North Carolina. The short timeframe and technical restrictions forced the team to become adaptable to the sources and logistic restraints of the six weeks. Conversational interviews with scholars and activists were coupled with scholarly articles and books, and multimedia sources available on the internet to immerse the team in the multifaceted experience of disability, and the community surrounding it. The first half of the project focused on building a knowledge base of the theories, history, and individuals important to disability studies and disabled communities. Daily meetings saw the team expand their own knowledge of the fields of Disability Studies and Justice and grow their own sense of community. Through weekly reflection sessions, the team continued to reaffirm their commitment to intersectional views to be upheld not only within the MOOC to be developed, but their own future work. The second half saw lightning-sessions, where the team members came to each session with handpicked sources on the various topics to be included in the syllabus, and each module of the MOOC was storyboarded. In the end, the researchers produced ten module storyboards, providing key documents and topics for each section, and ensuring that each module has generous time devoted to giving platform to the voices of those most affected. As the six weeks ended, the team also worked towards ensuring the longevity of each member’s involvement within Disability Studies and Justice. From the sources and techniques derived over the past six weeks, Kaleyn and Binisha developed two research questions to be further explored through capstone Independent Studies in the Sociology Department, and Josee began the process of developing a House Course for the Spring on Disability. In conjunction with these projects, Bryan is now developing a working group for undergraduate and graduate students working on topics of Disability Studies to facilitate research projects, events, and develop relationships with the disabled members of the Durham community. The team’s work in Story+ and beyond were defined by the four commitments they established during their first session: Creating Community; Ensuring Authenticity; Producing Advocacy; and Creating Visibility. None of the work that was done and products generated during these six weeks stopped on June 26. What is Past is Prologue rings true for all members of this team.

Art by Rafi Darrow Source Sins Invalid


  • Medicine
  • Public Policy
  • Oral History
  • Documentary
  • Civil Rights
  • Human Rights
  • Global Health