Participants who attend disability awareness training sessions often take part in so-called ‘simulation’ exercises. Such exercises, which include being blindfolded, are said to give non-disabled people a ‘deeper’ understanding of what it is like to live with a specific condition or impairment. But a few criticisms have been highlighted, which question the purpose of these exercises. Furthermore, the ethical aspects of these activities have also been raised. This is because these exercises are organised and initiated by non-disabled people, without the involvement or guidance of disabled people themselves.
We at Toucan Diversity do not believe that these exercises give an accurate or even useful insight into the complexities of disability. The first problem with simulation exercises is simply down to the fact that they are a temporary activity. Therefore, it is not realistically possible to get a clear picture of a person’s daily experiences. Even though these exercises can give someone a generalised awareness of the impairment itself, they do not demonstrate the added obstacles that people with disabilities experience, such as discrimination and isolation. In other words, these activities do not consider the environmental or societal barriers that a person will be confronted with. In fact, some people admitted in their feedback that they had only gained a superficial understanding of disability.
It has often been argued that the purpose of the training is to increase not only a participant’s awareness, but also their empathy for those with disabilities.
As a result of this ‘heightened level’ of empathy, it is believed that the activities will instigate a positive change in attitudes. However, past evidence has shown that they are actually more likely to have the opposite effect. This was most evident with children, who would often conclude that disabled people must certainly be sad, depressed or lonely. This conclusion supports a stereotypical view that living life as a disabled person must be ‘tragic’ and that people with disabilities are courageous and inspirational, just for living their ordinary daily lives. Another example of how simulation exercises can possibly do more harm than good, is when participants conclude that people with disabilities may not be able to do basic, everyday tasks which can only reinforce misconceptions. Furthermore, this can also encourage a ‘medical-model’ way of thinking, because simulation exercises do not challenge attendees to focus on what a person can do, or to think about ways in which access and inclusion could be made easier.