05 3 / 2014
"What pisses me off the most about the term “special needs” isn’t that it’s cutesy or euphemistic, but the presumption that my needs are special when abled people’s needs are just how they are. If I need transcripts for audio homework assignments, suddenly that’s special, but if an abled student requests transcripts for audio materials, that’s just another student request. Why are my needs special and not yours? “special needs” is part of ablenormativity."
20 2 / 2014
"Because I have paralyzed arms, I never wear tie shoes, a simple fashion decision that compensates for my inability to tie shoes. There’s nothing demeaning about it. There are many such things students could learn. The activities detailed above, though, cannot help but suggest helplessness. They evoke pity and disgust. The raisins and pudding dribble out of participants’ mouths and get splattered across their clean faces. Being fed, they can’t help but conclude, is a demeaning experience."
Disability simulations seem to be all the rage these days. But they teach precisely the wrong lessons: that disabled people are incompetent and pitiable, and that the problems lie in our bodies. Learning about social exclusion is a worthwhile exercise. Listening to people with disabilities describe the specific issues that we face is a worthwhile exercise. Pretending to be disabled for an hour - and being bad at it - is not.
What about two-part simulations? Start by simulating the disability alone … tie someone’s ankles together for example. Then introduce an adaptation … such as a wheelchair. Instead of seeing the wheelchair as a component of the disability, they might see it as a critical tool for adapting to the disability. Even if you’re not proficient with a wheelchair, it’s better than not being able to walk without having a wheelchair available. Maybe then a third part … taking the wheelchair around to inaccessible public places.
I agree that in general, simulations are not a good idea. But if people are bound and determined to do them, maybe this is a way to make it as meaningful and accurate an experience as possible. Also, they should ONLY be done with disabled people involved in every aspect of the program’s design.
I’m still against them in the vast majority of cases, but not 100% of the time (even though many of my fellow crips are against them 100% of the time).
For example, I used to live near an organization by/for blind people that would blindfold sighted employees and volunteers. Then blind people would take the sighted people around the city, showing them how to cross the street, take the bus, etc. This served two functions: introducing sighted people to some of the spatial/social hazards that blind people face (in a way they would likely remember), and making them realize how much more blind people know about navigating those hazards than sighted people do.
I would go farther and say that if a disability simulation is to be acceptable - that is, non-ableist - it doesn’t just need to be done with disabled people involved with every aspect, but it needs to be led and created bypeople with the specific disabilities involved.
What do the rest of y’all think?
Totally agree. I especially like the the idea of the blind … or disabled people leading the participants through the simulations.
While I find two- and three-part simulations to be an interesting idea, I still think that even the most well-intentioned events could have unintended negative or harmful outcomes. I agree that if simulations are going to be done regardless, then they should be fully run by disabled people who have the lived experiences to bring to the table. Even so, such events run the risk of leading to pity and empathy over true understanding and acceptance.