What does it mean to live with a disability? For many people in Oregon, it means constantly having to deal with issues that able-bodied people take for granted. And while people who don’t have to deal with issues that disabled people must take on all the time — such as how to apply for and receive Social Security disability benefits — may be empathetic, it is difficult for them to understand exactly how it is to live life from their perspective.
However, that doesn’t stop people from trying to get into the minds of those who are disabled to try to get a first-person view of their experiences. Schools such as Clemson University do so by having events such as Walk & Roll in My Shoes, when faculty members and school administrators spend a morning with a disabled student, mimicking the student’s condition: if the student is in a wheelchair, for example, the school representative spends the morning in a wheelchair too.
After a morning doing this, the two get together at lunch to discuss their experiences. The intent is for administrators and faculty members to become more aware of what disabled students face on a daily basis and help them understand what kinds of decisions ought to be made regarding university policy in regard to those with disabilities.
Some at Clemson are rankled by the concept, however. At least one professor — who is physically disabled herself — says it is unrealistic for someone to understand having a disability merely by simulating it for a few hours. She also chafes at the idea of referring to the students as “shadows” of the administrators as the go around campus, saying that calling someone a shadow equates to them being a nonperson and not visible — which is the opposite of the stated intent of the program.
For their part, the students involved in the program say they are eager to be able to meet with administrators on a one-on-one basis to let them hear about their concerns directly.
Source: Inside Higher Ed, “Disability Awareness Draws Scrutiny,” Carl Straumsheim, March 7, 2013