Challenges of Using Simulations in Disability Education: Unveiling the Complexities

Written by Miranda Forbes Sep 19, 2023 Uncategorized

In the realm of disability education, a widely employed method involves the use of simulation activities. The premise underlying this approach is that by allowing individuals without disabilities to temporarily “experience” different impairments, it will cultivate empathy towards disabled individuals. These simulations are often integrated into disability awareness events, occupying a limited space within the curriculum.

However, aside from the fundamental concern that discussions about disability should be an integral part of education, rather than relegated to specific days or weeks, the practice of utilizing simulations to educate about disability is fundamentally flawed and potentially harmful. Here, we present compelling reasons for reconsidering this approach:

  1. Embracing Diversity in Disability: Disabled individuals are an essential component of society, accounting for 25% of the global population. Within this framework, the problematic nature of simulation activities becomes evident. How can we ethically justify using simulations to encompass the entire spectrum of disabled experiences?
  2. Complexity and Diversity of Disability: Simulation activities tend to oversimplify disability by focusing on a single aspect, disregarding the intricate and multifaceted nature of the disabled experience. These activities may involve tasks such as using wheelchairs, wearing blindfolds, or noise-canceling headphones to “simulate” disability. However, the lived reality of many disabled individuals encompasses a range of symptoms and conditions that cannot be accurately mirrored in a simulation. Furthermore, the disability community encompasses an extensive array of both visible and invisible disabilities.
  3. Fostering Identity Pride: Despite the existence of disabled students and educators within every school, discussions of disability within education often revolve around certain conditions or modes of existence. This limited perspective risks undermining a student’s understanding of their own disabled identity. By implying that only specific disabilities warrant discussion or recognition, an implicit hierarchy of disabilities is established, potentially distorting students’ perceptions of the full spectrum of disability experiences.
  4. Beyond Empathy to True Understanding: The intention behind simulation activities is to enable students to “walk in the shoes” of disabled individuals. However, empathy encompasses far more than mere perspective taking. It encompasses cognitive empathy (imaginative understanding of another’s perspective), affective empathy (feeling another’s emotions), and prosocial behaviors (intentional actions benefiting others). True empathy necessitates genuine connections and interactions. For instance, briefly employing augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) or mobility aids doesn’t adequately convey the challenges and emotions experienced by those who rely on these tools.
  5. Perils of Pity, Inspiration, and Charity: Engaging students in simulation activities carries the risk of perpetuating harmful perceptions of disability. Students’ reactions to these activities can vary significantly. Some may find them enjoyable, leading to a potentially misguided notion that living with a disability is an entertaining experience. Conversely, students may exit the simulation with a sense of relief, reinforcing the narrative that disability is a tragedy to be avoided. Additionally, students might develop a misguided inclination towards pity and charity, perceiving disabled individuals as dependent and in need of assistance.

Conclusion: In reevaluating disability education, it is crucial to move beyond the limitations of simulations and embrace a more comprehensive, authentic approach. Instead of attempting to replicate disability experiences through brief activities, education should focus on fostering genuine connections, dispelling stereotypes, and encouraging meaningful dialogue. By abandoning simulations and engaging in open conversations about disability, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and empathetic society.