Thursday, 21 March 2013

Pretending to be disabled does not enlighten you.

You've all done it at some point, probably in school, the teacher has produced a battered wheelchair and instructed you to take turns pushing each other around in it so you can see what it's like to be "wheelchair bound", problem is these "learn about what it's like to be someone with a disability" exercises don't actually teach you what it is like. I'm using a wheelchair as an example, but there are many different exercises.


1. You still can do whatever you're pretending not to be able to do. If your wheelchair gets stuck? You just clamber out and unstick it. At the end of the exercise, you get to climb out of the chair and go home. There's a difference between choosing not to do something, and not being able to do it. The former will not teach you about the latter.

Even if we tied your legs so you couldn't use them? You would still know that you could and would use them in future. It's simply not the same. I know that I will still be disabled when I wake up tomorrow, you know you will not be. No amount of sitting in a wheelchair by you will change that.

2. It's a very limited experience.

There is a very big difference between being wheeled up and down a corridor and living with using a wheelchair.

2A: Everything in shops is basically set up for people who are 5ft plus, imagine having to constantly ask for help. You won't do that while being pushed down a corridor.

2B: No matter where you do these kinds of exercises? Nobody is going to accost you and abuse you, they will not demand personal medical details from you like you are a self narrating exhibit. They will not patronise or pity you, most of these exercises never even take place in public. In short, you will never experience being treated like an object.

2C: It cannot teach you about the reaction of friends and family to a disability. Remember, you are not disabled. Your parents won't cry about how you'll never do anything they can be proud of, your friends won't stop coming around or drift out of your life.

2D: It cannot teach you about the low employment rate for disabled people, nor how we get treated by employers.

2E: It cannot teach you about the other effects of disability, if someone is in a wheelchair because of joint problems, they may be in pain you cannot imagine. Being wheeled down a corridor does not show that, and hitting you will a sledgehammer to show you would be frowned upon. :P

In short, these exercises are a feel good "I did something" moment to improve your ego, not an actual teaching tool. If you want to know what it is like to be disabled? Listen to disabled people. We do talk about it, and that's knowledge you cannot get sitting in wheelchair.

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