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Narrative Medicine and Disability Studies

Narrative Medicine

Advances in diagnosis, treatment, and rehab are helping more people with brain injuries enjoy healthier, longer lives. Likewise, clinicians are gaining interest in connecting person to person to support healing. Narrative Medicine curricula include studies in the Arts and Humanities to supplement scientific knowledge and clinical training. The work exposes medical and nursing students to patient personal narrative and perspectives, art appreciation (to fine-tune visual and aural powers of observation), and a variety of ways to increase reflection, empathy, and understanding for how each person constructs meaning in their experiences of wellness and illness.

Trained in speech-language pathology before becoming a patient in cognitive rehab herself, Cheryl’s perspective is unique. She explores the balance of technical progress with fostering a meaningful personal connection built on trust and empowerment. ¬†She uses personal narrative film as a bridge between the medical world and the inner world of the patient with cognitive impairments so that patients and providers can work together more effectively.

For medical schools utilizing Narrative Medicine, the short brainreels films provide a powerful educational tool. Personal narrative from the patient’s perspective is shown in a rich visual environment with realism and clarity of intent. The films give students and clinicians a wealth of insight into patients’ difficulties understanding their providers’ instructions and the many ways in which executive dysfunction, dis-regulation, impaired communication, and discrimination interfere with life in everyday settings.

Though many people with brain injury appear “normal” on the outside, managing cognitive and emotional impairments is an ongoing, difficult practice. Impairments are so often not visible, and there is stigma in having impaired social communication skills. People can come to feel invisible themselves. Films depicting honest life with brain injury can help those who serve individuals with brain injury to reflect on the myriad ways in which brain injury presents as well as difficulties patients have in relating to the provider.

Feeling heard as a patient and a person is a transformative experience. And research shows that clinicians exposed to personal narrative tend to set more realistic, achievable health goals.

Cheryl is available to give informal or formal evidence-based presentations and facilitate discussions around the issues shown in her films in person or via Skype, helping to support the educational goals of medical, nursing, and allied health curricula. Additional trainings that do not include films are available and can be tailored to meet your group or class’s needs.

(Video preview for a streaming 3-hour course approved by the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association for CEUs titled “Personal Narrative Film: A Model for Context-Oriented Cognitive Rehabilitation After TBI.” Course offered by

Disability Studies

Disability Studies uses a social justice framework for talking about the economic, social, educational, and political implications of disability as a social construction. Rather than viewing the person with a disability as deviating from the norm and in need of cures or (re)habilitation, Disability Studies sees disability as an identity marker and as part of the natural variability in human development and experience. Just as individuals and groups take great pride in their ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, and nationality, we honor disability as a point of pride, locus of innovation, and impetus for adaptability.

Cheryl’s Disability Studies perspective encourages clinicians to reframe the therapeutic relationship from being about expert teacher and therapy recipient to both parties seeing themselves as collaborative agents of change in the community. It is not about clinicians advocating for patients; it’s about those who receive intervention being allowed to fully express and fight for their own rights, autonomy, and interdependence in the community as well as in the clinic room.

Viewing disability as both a social construction (barriers in society create the obstacles, not the impairments themselves) and as a culture with embodied experiences, Cheryl brings discussions of power dynamics, implicit biases and assumptions of competence, and critiques of common social narratives of disability to her presentations. Topics cover disability identity, disability justice, microaggressions, intersectional identities, and unintended silencing of the patient’s personal narrative.

Cheryl is available to give informal or formal evidence-based presentations and facilitate discussions around disability identity, culture, and social construction, especially within the brain injury and invisible disability communities. These presentations may or may not utilize brainreels films. All are designed to strengthen the therapeutic relationship and reduce stigma.

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StoryMinders spotlights the stories told by those affected by brain injury so that they are included in narratives from the larger disability communities and non-disability communities in accessible ways.


Through accessible media arts, advocacy, and education, StoryMinders shares unique, first-hand stories of brain injury as a path toward equitable inclusion and community change. We create accessible media in cross-disability settings, emphasizing disability identity and culture.

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