[nfbwatlk] FW: How Disability Simulations Promote Damaging Stereotypes

Mello, Michael (DSB) michael.mello at dsb.wa.gov
Tue Oct 22 23:07:33 UTC 2013

Good afternoon,
I thought this topic would be an interesting discussion for our list.

Michael J. Mello | Adaptive Technology Specialist
Washington State Department of Services for the Blind
Direct: 206-906-5552
Toll Free: 800-552-7103
Mobile: 206-605-7332
Fax: 206-721-4103
Michael.Mello at dsb.wa.gov
3411 South Alaska Street
Seattle, WA 98118

-----Original Message-----
From: Adreon, Mark (DSB) 
Sent: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 2:49 PM
To: DSB DL Vocational Rehab Group
Cc: MacKillop, Michael (DSB); Adreon, Mark (DSB)
Subject: FW: How Disability Simulations Promote Damaging Stereotypes

Please read the information  below as this has been an area of concern for a while now and might deserve some DSB conversation.

Even if we agree upon a disclaimer, it might support a stronger perspective without supporting false assumptions.


Mark Adreon 

Program and Employment Specialist 


3411 South Alaska St.

Seattle, WA   98118


mark.adreon at dsb.wa.gov Check our web site at :       www.dsb.wa.gov 


From: Olson, Toby (ESD) [mailto:TOlson2 at ESD.WA.GOV] 
Sent: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 11:54 AM
Subject: How Disability Simulations Promote Damaging Stereotypes


How Disability Simulations Promote Damaging Stereotypes


October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Disability History Month here in Washington State. Disability awareness events held in October often include disability simulation exercises, in which participants who don't have a disability will spend some time using a wheelchair, or wearing a blindfold. More sophisticated exercises might also include headphones with white noise generators to simulate a hearing loss, or boxes in which participants can attempt to perform tasks while watching their hands reflected by a series of mirrors to provide a sense of the effects of a specific learning disability. 


While these exercises are popular and can help the participants to become more aware of some of the environmental barriers people with disabilities encounter, many people with disabilities and disability organizations are concerned that they create an inaccurate perception of the experience of living with a disability. The fear is that simulations actually reinforce the inaccurate negative stereotypes that often limit opportunities for people with disabilities in education and employment.


If you participate in a simulation, what you experience will not be at all like a slice from the life of a person who has lived with that disability for any time. The difference will not be because you'll know that you'll be taking off the blindfold or walking away from the wheelchair at the end. The difference will be because, without any of the coping skills and techniques people with disabilities create and master throughout their lives, the best you will be able to manage will be to emulate the experience of being the single most hapless, incompetent individual with that particular disability on the face of the planet.


Participants in disability simulations experience their adopted disabilities as a series of discoveries of things they can't do. They can leave the exercise imagining an unbroken string of those discoveries stretching out for a lifetime. Those who have had a disability all our lives haven't experienced our disabilities that way. For those who have acquired a disability, that experience is usually a relatively brief transition phase. The long term experience of living with a disability is more aptly characterized as adapting, adjusting and developing new ways to do things when the usual ways don't work. It is more commonly the active pursuit of an expanding life, not mourning for a contracting one.


I have heard simulations compared to putting on blackface, but disability simulations have nothing to do with the contempt and ridicule that were the essence of the minstrel shows. Most people in the disability community appreciate that simulations represent a sincere interest in improving understanding and a willingness to put time and effort toward that goal. Still, we cannot help but be concerned that participants who leave a simulation imagining life with a disability as an endlessly shrinking spiral of frustration and loss might be even less comfortable associating with people who have disabilities than they were before. Those whose take away from the exercise is frustration at the inability to complete simple daily activities, could, as a result, be less able to recognize the substantive contributions a job applicant with a disability is ready make to their organization's bottom line. 


If there is one thing about the experience of disability that everyone needs to understand, it is that the chronic unemployment and resulting poverty that are far too common among working-age people with disabilities are not natural consequences of disability. The best exercise for improving awareness on that issue is the one where we all recruit, hire and work alongside people who have disabilities. That exercise has the added benefit of allowing us to discover what people who have so much experience devising innovative, practical solutions to unusual problems can add to our organizations' strengths.          


Toby Olson



Toby Olson, MPA

Executive Secretary

Governor's Committee on Disability Issues and Employment


tolson2 at esd.wa.gov




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