Kelsie Acton – exploring the single story

A weathered grey signpost with blue skies above, green trees to the right and a path winding off into the distance to the left. The sign pointing left reads ‘Richmond Park and Holly Lodge’, the sign pointing right reads ‘Barnes, London, Roehampton Gate.

Kelsie Action has dual nationality and with the programme delivered virtually for the first time, Kelsie was able to secure one of the 2 places made available to applicants living beyond Ontario from her current base in London, UK.  Kelsie shares the impact that Sync has had in allowing those taking part to rethink unhelpful narratives as an essential and empowering  leadership skill.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks in her TED talk about the danger of the single story. And while Adichie has fallen into the dangers she describes when it comes to speaking about the stories and lives of trans women, I think the idea of the single story is useful. The single story is when only one story is told about a group of people, and usually told by people outside that group. The danger of the single story is that it limits the ways people can be, and grow to the story.

I think about the dangers of the single story a lot. I think about it in art: that disability arts exists as a corrective to the single story of disability as tragedy and suffering that should be cured or eliminated by medicine. I think about it in access: the idea that access is an ongoing, changing relationship, not a Universal Design that you can get right, and then invest no more effort in. Every part of my work in disability arts and access is about undoing the dangers of the single story.

I think about the dangers of the single story a lot because I find the single story so seductive. It’s so hard to imagine other ways of doing things. And the feeling of rightness, of righteousness, is very compelling. But the single story keeps you stuck in a particular time and place and a particular way of being.

The events of my life this year – leaving Edmonton and moving to London (England) – were about gaining access to a myriad of new structures, models and stories of disability arts. My understanding of how disability arts could exist and could serve disabled people expanded. My understandings of access expanded. I gained new tools and new possibilities to try. New stories.

Sync was a very similar experience. I realized that I had been working with old understandings and an old story of leadership that did not serve me in my old life, does not serve me now, and will not serve me in the future. Sync introduced me to the idea of leadership models. In the past, I thought the only way I could be a leader was through the model of the servant leader. While this leadership model will work for some people, it left me feeling exhausted and like I could not say no to requests that drained me.

Mia Mingus writes about how ableism encourages her to always be “erasing my edges and redrawing them” and how knowing your limits in this world is so very difficult. It is very hard for me know my limits, to know where I should stop. Thinking the way I should be a leader was through endless giving made knowing my limits even more difficult.

Through Sync, I realized there were many, many ways of being a leader and many stories I could tell about myself. I also learned to think critically and compassionately about crafting the stories I am currently telling about myself and my leadership journey. I’m not quite sure what model of leadership I want to inhabit now. I am still crafting the story I am telling about myself. But I know that story can be something that I consciously choose and that can change if it is not serving me.

Learning that there were many stories is the gift disability arts has given me. Learning there are many leadership stories, and that I can change the story, is the gift Sync gave me.

Exploring the single story with Chimanda Ngozi Adichi


There is 1 comment about this page

  1. Bruce on

    Thank you for sharing, I think rewriting old narratives is important, for me the hard part is recognizing the the built in assumptions in society that influence those stories. The socialization in a group (that makes us fell like we belong) makes it hard to step back and see an assumption. I think shifting “place” and culture help me gain a better understand of others “normal”.


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