An Eye Opener

It is quite disheartening and sad that activities meant to simulate the experience of disability are so often lauded, eye-opening experiences. With just a few hours in a wheelchair, wearing earplugs or wearing a blindfold, people supposedly gain a deeper understanding of what life with a disability truly entails.

In this article “Disability Awareness Draws Scrutiny” by Carls Straumsheim (March 7,2013). Mr. Straumshein believes that such event meant to raise awareness actually reinforces stereotypes and pity toward people with disability. He is supported by Miss Jillian Weise (who walks with a prosthetic leg). According to the latter, “It (simulation event) assumes that a non disabled participant can understand disabilities totally and completely by wearing goggles or by wearing headphones” I have to agree to both of the above views. Even in the 21st century for many of us , disability is an identity and a culture, as are race , religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation etc. Now, imagine if school and organizations began to hold widespread Black Awareness events, during which white people would put on black face and go around in public for a few hours to gain an understanding of the experiences of black people. I think it’s an understatement to say that would rightfully result in a nationwide angry uproar for several reasons.

First of all, the term “awareness” makes minority groups sound like a problem. Second, a brief activity can never replace a lifetime of experiences. If being black, disabled or other are identities, why are disability awareness averts the only one of its kind deemed to be acceptable, while awareness averts for other identities would undoubtedly be deemed offensive? To me, it feels like the opposite of acceptance to their entire identity as person with a physical disability reduced to an isolated simulation experience. The article on the other hand, does supports disability simulation. Miss Arlene Stewart (Director of student disability services) said that the goal of the event was” to put students with disabilities in contact with influential policy makers on campus. “Her views are supported by Dan Hofman who believes that such events ‘gives new perspective on how to make the campus more accessible to people with disabilities” I agree with both. Colleges and schools are the correct platform to raise any issues like ‘disability simulation’s both students -who are future nation builder and professors -whose sagacious and genuine understanding of any issue can bring about positivity by not offending the physical challenged people as media and movies generally do.

Similarly, Miss Sarah Gibbson in her article ‘Simulating Autism’ focuses on autism and its merits as well as demerits to physically challenged people. She points that in Autism challenges cannot be lessened through manipulating external controls. Moreover, there are no clear objectives that need to be achieved despite the environmental difficulty. It lacks a cohesive narrative structure and distinct player objectives and isn’t enjoyable to play. She further highlights that autism induces fear to capture the experiences of autistic people. Sherly Burgstahler and Tanis Doe support her. They argue that if disability simulation are to be used it must be designed not to capture the daily experience with attention to disability as a social and political experience. They also caution that trying on disability by using wheelchair does not provide insight into the strategies that individual develop overtime to manage their environment. The panic that a player might experience of disability and may reinforce the assumption that being able-bodied or neurotype is objectively preferable to being disabled. I vehemently agree with their views. A normal being pushing a wheelchair around in no way gives them a genuine understanding of what it feels like for a disabled person to wheel around and be stopped in his or her tracks by a high curb everyday. In each case the simulation isn’t natural or accurate. An able bodied person by using external devices cannot emote the deep internal experiences of some one not been gifted.

Finally, we can be aware of disabled people. We can attempt to roll a mile in their wheelchair. We can analyze and discuss and dissect the experience from a million different angels. But we must move away from equating empathy with acceptance .We must embrace differences as a fact of human existence without first needing to imitate them. For these kinds of activities are not effectively contributing to long-term advancement in the disability right movement.

I would take the liberty to end this essay by dedicating it to one of my old friend who is physically challenged and has been on wheel chair since the age of 10yrs.I called him up and asked him about disability simulation and he answered “You abled guys now’ve found a new platform to mock us and make us feel more pity and guilty of our differences” I was speechless. Then asked aren’t there any benefits? To that he said “only one benefit I can see, it will generate awareness amongst you guys. Thank you.” I was silent and started with my essay.


One thought on “An Eye Opener

  1. Very, very thoughtfully written. I especially like this sentence: “We must embrace differences as a fact of human existence without first needing to imitate them.” You do a good job of presenting the viewpoints represented in the articles, and ending the essay with the “beginning” (your telephone conversation) was a clever touch.


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