Disability Simulation – An insight into disability or a patronising activity?

A disability simulation is any activity designed to give participants a sense of what it is like to experience the issues someone with a health conditions encounter. Common disability simulations include:

  • spending time in a wheelchair,
  • going into the community blindfolded,
  • or playing sports with one arm tied behind your back.

During our face-to-face Disability Awareness training courses, we have regularly undertaken these types of activities, we do this to provide delegates with an insight into accessibility.  For example, it allows course delegates the experience of guiding someone who may have sight loss or the issue of a high reception desk for a person who is seated in a wheelchair and the impact that has on not only the person in the wheelchair but on our client’s service delivery.

Training Delegates carrying out our Disability Perception activity
Training Delegates carrying out our Disability Perception activity

We always state that this activity is not meant to be condescending and that people are more than welcome to opt out.  It can be one thing to look at access and recognise the changes that need to be made but sometimes even the smallest exposure to the difficulties faced can generate so much more understanding, and understanding and education can be so powerful, this is surely the way to start change?

Disability Perception stand at Naidex
Disability Perception stand at Naidex

Earlier in the year Richard attended the annual Naidex exhibition and while he was there saw a van called the Autism Reality Experience, and the Virtual Dementia Tour.  You can find out more about them here https://www.training2care.com/autism-reality-experience.htm,  This is another form of disability perception but to a higher level, what would your thoughts be on this?  Sadly Richard wasn’t able to try it but intends to if they are there next year.  We’ve tried all our activities… even Richard!

We wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything we wouldn’t do ourselves, could the Autism Reality Experience make us feel different about this type of activity?

However, some feel that a snap shot into someone’s abilities may make a person more aware of another person’s experiences, but it doesn’t dig deep to the root of discrimination against people with minority identities. Instead, it’s more likely to evoke empathy or pity than true acceptance.  They also state that if it does make such a huge impact on people why hasn’t it sparked change? Both in accessibility and behaviours?

I’m inclined to state that there just aren’t enough people who have been educated.  While I completely understand that it’s never going to be as easy as sitting in a wheelchair for half an hour and then understanding all the difficulties someone encounters in their everyday life.  I use crutches because of knee and hip conditions and trying to get around a car park for 10 minutes as opposed to trying to carry a loaf of bread and pint of milk home from the shop while navigating cars and opening doors etc. is not the same.

I understand that it’s not a real life situation but in my opinion it is a tiny insight and a tiny insight is better than no insight at all.

What are your thoughts? Eye opening or patronising?

Thanks for reading

Gemma Price

Gemma Price, Operations Manager - Accessible Wales

Gemma Price
Operations Manager
Accessible Wales