Participants were invited to take up one of two roles, either the role of storyteller or respondent. Storytellers were those with personal experiences of using support to exercise legal capacity, or of having their legal capacity denied. Respondents were those with personal or professional experience as an activist, supporter, policymaker, researcher, scholar, or practitioner regarding legal capacity. These individuals worked together as pairs to write a narrative based on the lived experience of the person with a disability, as well as a critical legal, policy, or social response to that experience. These contributions were published in an edited collection. Those who did not want to contribute a piece for the edited collection were encouraged to take part in the project by attending project events or sharing their ideas and experiences on the project’s website/ blog.
The project team connected with potential applicants in a number of ways. Public calls for applications were presented to networks at meetings, via social media, the Centre for Disability Law and Policy’s mailing list, and websites. Members of the project team also invited individuals to apply through contacting their personal and professional networks, or inviting members of their network to circulate the call to potential participants. This involved identifying individuals who had been public about sharing their stories and experiences regarding legal capacity, and asking if they would like to participate in the project. The project team also utilised the networks of the Steering Group and the Advisory Committee by asking each member to identify one potential applicant, either a storyteller or respondent, and to discuss the project with them and if they would like to make an application to support them to apply.
Separate application forms were prepared for storytellers and respondents. Storytellers submitted an application form where they described their experiences of exercising their legal capacity or having their legal capacity denied, and also set out why they wanted to share their story. While the application forms did not require the proposed story to come within a particular policy theme, it did note that the project team had a particular interest in stories regarding the four thematic areas: consent to medical treatment, consent to sex, contracts and the criminal justice system. The application form for respondent’s requested information about professional or personal experience of working collaboratively with people with disabilities, and asked why the applicant wanted to participate in the VOICES project. Both storytellers and respondents were asked if they could commit to working with a partner for a two year period, whether they would commit to and abide by the ground rules of the project, and if they would permit their story to be edited for publication.
When selecting participants, the project team were looking for applicants that met certain criteria. In order to become a storyteller, an applicant was first and foremost required to have lived experience of being denied or being supported in the exercise of their legal capacity. A storyteller was further required to indicate that they were able to work collaboratively and give constructive criticism and feedback to their respondent. In order to become a respondent, applicants were required to have knowledge of legal capacity in practice, and to be committed to the rights enumerated in the CRPD. A respondent would have to be able to completely accept a storyteller’s perspective, and take it upon themselves to learn more about the storyteller’s legal, political, social, and cultural systems in order to understand their story. Respondents would also have to demonstrate that they were able to work collaboratively with the storyteller to place the story in a broader context, and to think about the larger implications of sharing the story.
Another consideration in selecting participants was diversity. The project team aimed to select applicants that had diverse experiences, backgrounds and knowledge. The VOICES team was also mindful of the gender balance of participants in the selection process.
The project team selected individuals from twelve different countries to participate in the project to ensure that the project would have a global perspective, and represent the diverse lived experience and possible reform options in many different jurisdictions. Ultimately, participants from eleven different countries and five different continents participated in the VOICES project.
To ensure that information about the VOICES project and the application process was accessible to all individuals who wished to apply, the project team made information packs about the project in easy-to-read and plain language available. The application forms for storytellers and ground rules were available in an easy-to-read format. As the working language of the project was English, the forms were not translated into other languages, but some participants used support to fill out the application forms, as English was not their first language.
Participants with accessibility issues were encouraged to schedule individual meetings with members of the project team in order to ensure that their needs were being met, and the application forms specifically called for further information on participant accessibility requirements.