Learning About Disabilities:
Why NOT to Do Simulations
Many groups and organizations want to learn more about the experiences of people with disabilities, and we here at Disability Network are very happy about that! There are many good ways to learn about the disability experience. There is also at least one not-so-good way that remains popular: the disability "simulation".
Our Board chairperson, Robyn Ingold, recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette that addresses this issue:
Robyn Ingold, Chairperson
A recent article was posted on mlive.com: "Otsego kids learn it's not easy being different at school's 'Diversity Day'," on Nov. 18, describing a disability simulation held at an elementary school.
While the intention may have been to understand and appreciate diversity, pretending to have a disability was a detrimental approach.
Instead of learning to understand the disability experience or learning from people who have disabilities, students learned "how they could help" people with disabilities.
Instead of understanding what people with and without disabilities have in common, students participated in activities focused on what people with disabilities can't do.
Students described their experience using negative terms such as "struggled," "difficult," "this is hard" and "weird." All of these sentiments evoke pity for people with disabilities. Pity is not productive.
Putting on goggles smeared with Vaseline, putting on noise-blocking headphones, or wearing gloves while performing fine motor tasks to "simulate" a disability for a few minutes does not in any way show how persons with disabilities live their lives.
And why should it be OK to "simulate" a disability to understand people with disabilities? As a society, we know it would be inappropriate to "simulate" being of a different race or ethnicity to enhance cultural awareness or ask heterosexuals to "simulate" being gay so as to erase homophobia. So, why do people still feel it is appropriate to "simulate" a disability? Disability simulations do nothing but reinforce negative stereotypes about persons with disabilities.
To learn about people with disabilities, involve people with disabilities. Ask them to share their story and experience. Learn how they may do things in a different way - not what they can't do. Read publications written by people with disabilities. Work with organizations, like Centers for Independent Living, that are run by and for people with disabilities.
Disability is a natural part of human diversity. Learning about and understanding this diversity are good things. Involving people with disabilities and asking them to share their experiences - instead of pretending for a few minutes to have a disability - can be a beneficial experience for all involved. Let's replace the pity with respect.
Robyn Ingold/Chairperson, Board of Directors, Disability Network Southwest Michigan, Kalamazoo
If your group or organization would like to learn more about people with disabilities and disability issues, contact Michele at (269) 345-1516 or Joanne at (269) 982-7761. We can suggest movies, books, articles, and blogs written by and about people with disabilities. We can also arrange a presentation to your group on a wide range of disability topics!