My friend, Valerie Brew-Parrish is a terrific writer. She wrote this column that appeared today in the Joliet, IL newspaper, The Herald News, where she has a regular column. It's about Disability Awareness Day, which i guess is today. She graciously allowed me to publish it here. Thanks Val.
Hey, Hey, Hey, it’s Disability Awareness Day! By golly, everyone gets a chance to see what it’s really like to have a disability. Yank out those blindfolds, grab cotton to stuff in your ears, and plop yourself in a wheelchair to navigate around an obstacle course. . .These are the words I wrote back in 1997. Nothing that I have published before or since will ever have the impact that my column for the Ragged Edge on disability simulations has had on humanity.
I updated the column in 2004 once again for the same publication. Never in my wildest imaginings did I ever expect the overwhelming response I received from attacking disability simulations. Both columns have been translated into several languages; they are chapters in university textbooks, U.S. Army Training Manuals, Church training manuals, etc. This column sparked a revolution in the disability community. The message world wide from disability activists thundered, NO MORE SIMULATIONS! And, still the debacle continues and is even sometimes sanctioned by ill-informed people with disabilities.
We have all seen the advertisements of prominent community leaders pretending they have a disability to promote some favorite cause. Yet, it would be inconceivable and insulting for these leaders to simulate a specific minority group to get a better understanding of the issues. Why are simulations so destructive?
Nondisabled people come away from these simulations thinking that life is a tragedy for people with disabilities. A young high school student made these comments after spending a day in a wheelchair: “I briefly felt how it would feel to be wheelchair bound for life. I couldn’t keep the tears from my eyes.”
A college student who participated in a disability simulation and had his arms pinned behind his back told me, “I’d rather be dead than have to live like you do.” He was being honest. However, he did not have the coping strategies I employ. I could not teach this student in a simulation how to drive with his feet, diaper a child, make a bed, and cope with life. I am not amazing. I, like other people with life long disabilities, know how to successfully and happily live with a disability.
Simulations promote excessive pity and fear of disability. The student who was blindfolded told my daughter he was bouncing into walls and was afraid to take a step. After this simulation, how likely would it be for this person in the future to employ a blind person? My husband, blind from birth, commuted to his job from Indianapolis to Chicago.
Thankfully, my original columns on simulations spawned an excellent book by a true disability activist, Mary Johnson, editor of the Ragged Edge Online. The book is called: Disabilty Awareness-Do it Right! People with disabilities need to be treated with dignity. When disability simulations become extinct, perhaps the flood of pity will dry up and be replaced with respect.
Valerie Brew-Parrish: Val4info@Comcast.net