Accessibility Disability Education Partnership Social Model of Disability

Confessions of a reformed simulator trainer2 min read

8/10/20 2 min read


Confessions of a reformed simulator trainer2 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Matthew Whiting, Regional Coordinator Disability Leadership for CCS Disability Action’s Southern region, explains why pretending to be disabled is simply not on, despite people’s good intentions.

A photo of Matthew Whiting.

As a young adult feeling my way through disability and identity as a disabled person. I did not understand the issues around simulation as a teaching tool.

In my past, when I was contracted as a disability awareness educator, I regularly used simulation as a teaching tool. For the uninitiated, simulation involves attempting to replicate a ‘disability experience’ where people borrowed a wheelchair or mobility device, wear goggles or undertake some other type of disability simulation in order to experience what it is like ‘to have a disability.’

For me, this involved taking people for ‘walks’ in loaned wheelchairs so they too could experience some of the access barriers I experience daily as a powerchair user. At this stage of my life, I never questioned the ethics of ‘playing’ wheelchairs in the street.

When I started to read about the Social Model of Disability, I began to wonder about my eagerness to show people the barriers that disabled people face in our ‘wee walks’. As I became more politicised my identity became stronger. I realised it is impossible to simulate the environmental aspects and the long-term impact of negative attitudes towards disabled people.

My intention was right in showing non-disabled people the barriers that my community face, but the methodology was completely wrong. Simulation comes from the Medical Model of Disability, which views the individual with an impairment as the problem. Therefore, the ‘walk’s’ focus was on the barriers that the individual faces, instead of the wider physical and social environment. Simulation does not address or change the environment of our society that discriminates against disabled people.

Now, I am a fierce opponent of simulation training because of the Social Model lens I live every day. The important things are to challenge our physical and social environment and people’s attitudes towards disabled people that exclude my community.

Would our sophisticated society allow people to simulate the experience of being a woman, a migrant, Māori or being gay? Why do we think we can do it for disabled people?

I believe to make real change we need to have a partnership model where disabled people’s expertise and lived experience is actively sought. For example, disabled people need to be paid consultants or advisors who are involved from the inception of planning.

If you want to read more, the following article about simulation is excellent. Enjoy the read!