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Disability 'Awareness Days'

A look at some of the topics in Ragged Edge Online's libraries and archives.

It's fall, it's back-to-school time, and that means it's also time for groups to start planning "disability awareness days."

"Schools, government agencies, and sometimes, deplorably, gimp groups, are still offering the public 'try on a disability' programs -- exercises in which nondisabled people are blindfolded, put into wheelchairs or given earplugs to 'simulate' having a disability," wrote Illinois disability activist Valerie Brew-Parrish on the Ragged Edge website. Brew-Parrish, like many activists, considers disability simulations an atrocity.

In The Advocado Press's new book, Disability Awareness -- Do It Right!, Brew-Parrish and other disability scholars and activists explain the problems with simulations and, more important, how to stage a good Disablity Awareness Day -- one that avoids the problems of disability simulations. Short background articles and planning lists help organizers carry out fun and effective Awareness Day activities, and an appendix includes articles to use with Awareness Day participants.
More about the book.

Brew-Parrish's 1997 Ragged Edge article, The Wrong Message, made people think about the harm simulations can do. Read article.

Read Brew-Parrrish 2004 followup: The Wrong Message - Still.

In 2003, Chapman University professor Art Blaser offered Ragged Edge readers some alternatives to simulation exercises, and Fresno, CA activist Ed Eames showed Ragged Edge readers how his local disability group used the day-in-a-wheelchair tactic to wake up public officials.

Read Some Alternatives to Simulation Exercises.

Read Fresno Official Awareness: When simulations work.

And be sure to check out our earlier news archives on this or related topics -- or use our search feature to find more articles.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect the thundering response I received about my original, "Hey Hey, Hey, it's disability awareness day. . ." The Disability Rag, now the Ragged Edge, was and always will be one of my very favorite publications for people with disabilities. I was glad I had a magazine like this to submit my article to. I was touched and inspired when the readers connected with this simulation debacle. As I said in 1997, the simulations destroy self respect, and robs a person of their dignity. Pity and people thinking they would rather be dead than live with a disability, surely does not help our cause. Kudos to Mary Johnson for her new book on how to do awareness right. It should be a part of all of our libraries.

I did a sucessful Disability Awareness Day at my high school with a simulation. Students learned everything from asking for accomdations to how interaction with peers changes when they have a disability. The evaluations showed a positive change in views. We followed this with an assembly and a guest speaker. If you take the correct approach when planning the simulation it will be successful.

Over here in Britain, disabled people have rejected disability AWARENESS training for the reasons you identify - in that this is usually delivered by patronising n.d.'s with big hearts but little understanding, promoting simulation as a way of 'improving attitudes' rather than doing anything about breaking down barriers, etc. -and have developed a practice of disability EQUALITY training instead.

What distinguishes Disability Equality Training from awareness training is a completely different emphasis, in that it:

is about challenging understanding of disability, changing practices and addressing barriers, rather than just about ‘improving attitudes’

promotes a social rather than an individual tragedy model of disability

contributes to the wider struggle for equality among devalued social groups

uses discussion-based methods for teaching and learning rather than simulation

uses perspectives developed by disabled people through the Disabled People's Movement

As an example, here is an outline of the day's DET course which I deliver as a trainer:
Why Disability Equality Training?
The Medical & Social Models
Reasons Why Definitions Are Important

Exercise: Language That We Use
Exercise: Oppressive Statements
What’s Wrong With Care?

Impairment Effects
The Affirmative Model of Disability
Exercise: Positive Statements
Exercise: Breaking down the Barriers

Feedback and Evaluation

Of course, what has been happening over here recently is that with recent legislative changes - the 2005 DDA Amendment imposes a new disability equality duty on all public authorities from Dec. 2006 - the big charities - the very organisations which remain part of the problem of disability by dividing impairment-specific groups, by continuing to plead with the public for their loose change to 'help the poor disabled', etc. - Scope, Capability Scotland, Leonard Cheshire, & so on -have recognised that there's money to be had from DET at the moment, & have started hi-jacking the language of the movement, & are offering very much watered down versions. It's pathetic, really, but doesn't make progress easier.

Any one or any organisations of disabled people interested in finding out more about DET I'd happy to converse with.

Colin Cameron


I would love to see some writing about why some simulations work and some don't... from the articles linked it seems that they have some place in things.

[Please excuse mistakes/brevity, typed via on-screen keyboard due to disability]

The new book from the Advocado Press is good at explaining this. Check out DISABILITY AWARENESS - DO IT RIGHT!

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