I have a very uncomfortable relationship with disability simulation exercises.
Don't get me wrong, I want to like them. They are always well-intentioned. Designers always hope that getting people familiar with the sensations, experiences or equipment of disability will make them more welcoming and understanding of people with disabilities in their lives.
The idea seems sound and it should work, yet most of these exercises--from riding in wheelchairs, to wearing blindfolds, to puppets and role-plays and beyond--just seem to make most participants feel sorry for people who live with disabilities everyday and relieved to get back to their own lives.
Pity and relief are not what I'm aiming for.
I have been puzzling about this for a long time. I know that information alone does not change behavior, and I believe that making concepts experiential improves the likeliehood of student change... Yet these programs just don't teach the things I want people to learn.
For a long time I thought it was the "how" of the experiences that sent folks down the wrong road--maybe things weren't multi-sensory enough, or structured enough or something. But now, I think it's the "what" of the activities that misses the mark.
I have recently realized that disability simulations create the experience of changing from not having a disability to having one rather than the experience of day-to-day life with a disability. Consequently, I think participants get a taste of the emotions that accompany really big changes in our lives. Participants learn that those feelings are what it's like to have a disability.
Well, the emotions of 'big change' certainly can accompany new disability diagnoses (and can be intense.) There can be fear, anger, embarrassment, depression, denial, bargaining and more. For a while things can be utterly frustrating and baffling.
Many people who acquire disabilities through age, illness or injury go through these feelings. Parents whose children are diagnosed with a disability may experience them as well.
But--and here is the kicker--those 'big change emotions' are temporary in disability just like they are in life's other 'big changes.'
And over time most people respond to disability the same way they respond to other big changes.
Eventually people go from saying "I want my old life back" to "Now I do things this way."
Disability simulations just don't impart that perspective. So how do we create that?
What can we change or add to our sensitivity and awareness programs to make the message of understanding stronger?
Here is a link to a new on-line awareness game. (h/t Media Dis n Dat)
What do you think?
See here for another perspective.
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