Thursday, April 10, 2008

Disability simulation exercises may add to negative impressions

Above is a disability simulation exercise in New Zealand. Having people without disabilies "experience" disabilities through these kinds of simulations has been controversial in the USA for more than a decade.

The Bay Chronicle in New Zealand reports April 10 that the simulation was part of a program called "Through Other Eyes," which "allows people to experience and feel what it is like to be an older adult or a physically disabled person doing everyday things. In the workshop, co-ordinated by Age Concern Mid North, people are given equipment to simulate disabilities often associated with the aging process. For example, special goggles may simulate a cataract or glaucoma, water wings are used to simulate stiffness in the joints."

The disability rights magazine, The Ragged Edge, wrote about simulations and Disability Awareness Days back in 1997, and said these simulation send the wrong message, reinforcing to people already afraid of disability that it is a tragic fate. "Life with a disability is a tragedy! Why these poor gimps, blinks, and others would be better off dead! They are so courageous and yet pitiful as they go about their daily routines. Yep, I'm so glad it is their fate and not mine . . . Sadly, these are the misconceptions that the public holds about those of us who live with disabilities. Disability simulations do nothing but reinforce these negative stereotypes about persons with disabilities."

The Ragged Edge writer said a better education method is to have real people with disabilities give presentations as part of disability awareness efforts. "It is important for the public to meet with persons with disabilities and to interact with us. Why not have people who use wheelchairs discuss obstacles and the need for accessibility? Deaf persons can demonstrate sign language skills, and blind persons can show proper travel techniques. The public needs to know we exist; that we are professionals, parents and homeowners just like them."

The writer of the 1997 article, Valerie Brew-Parrish, revisited the topic in 2004 in The Ragged Edge online and came to the same conclusion -- that simulations add to misunderstandings about the lives of people with disabilities. She states clearly that "we, the people who live with disabilities, we who have so long advocated for being treated as full members of society, must reclaim our dignity and say 'No!' to simulations."