This summer Nicki Pombier Berger [OHMA 2013] launched an innovative oral history project in partnership with Toward Independent Living and Learning, Inc (TILL), a Massachusetts-based agency serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
The centerpiece of Nicki’s thesis, Nothing About Us Without Us, is a multimedia collection of stories from self-advocates with Down syndrome. By housing her thesis on the storytelling platform Cowbird, her aim was to challenge existing myths and stereotypes of individuals with Down syndrome by sharing their voices, perspectives and experiences with an audience who may not hear them otherwise. The belief that life stories can broaden limited views of individuals with intellectual disabilities is key to the work Nicki is doing beyond her thesis with TILL.
Nicki is leading a pilot of the TILL Living Legacy Project, which will document, preserve and share the family histories of longtime residential service clients at TILL. Life history interviews with family members and clients will be archived at TILL along with digitized family photos. Interviews and photos will serve as source material for audio slideshows, which will be shared with TILL staff working directly with the clients now and in the future, enriching understanding of who the clients are through the stories of their lives, and ensuring those stories are archived for posterity.
Nicki conceived of the project design during the spring 2013 Fieldwork course with Amy Starecheski. With support from OHMA, she submitted a proposal to TILL Founder and President, Dafna Krouk-Gordon. The proposal was accepted, and Nicki is currently working with four families to document and share their histories. The pilot phase wraps up in December, when the audio slideshows will be shared at TILL residence holiday parties. Nicki will be working with Dafna to assess the effectiveness of the project, and make recommendations for adaptation and expansion.