Crip for a Day: The Unintended Negative Consequences of Disability Simulations

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Abstract

Objective: To investigate the impact of disability simulations on mood, self-ascribed disability stereotypes, attitudes about interacting with disabled individuals, and behavioral intentions for improving campus accessibility. Design: Experiment 1 evaluated disability-awareness simulations by randomly assigning undergraduates (N = 60) with and without disabilities to stations simulating either dyslexia, hearing or mobility impairments. Experiment 2 extended the field study into the lab where undergraduates (N = 50) with and without disabilities each completed low vision, hearing impairment, and dyslexia simulations. Both studies incorporated pretest–posttest measures of mood, self-ascribed disability stereotypes, and attitudinal measures. Results: In both experiments, disability simulations made participants feel more confused, embarrassed, helpless, and more vulnerable to becoming disabled themselves compared to baseline. Following the simulations, empathetic concern (warmth) toward disabled people increased in both studies, but attitudes about interacting did not improve. In Experiment 1, postsimulation anxiety, embarrassment, and helplessness were highest for those who used wheelchairs or simulated dyslexia. In Experiment 2, participants judged themselves less competent, expressed more pity, expressed more interaction discomfort, and were not more willing to interview disabled students for an accessibility project following the simulations compared to baseline. In addition, Experiment 2 found frustration, guilt, anxiety, and depression were most pronounced among those who interacted with disabled people less than once per month. Conclusions: Simulating disabilities promotes distress and fails to improve attitudes toward disabled people, undermining efforts to improve integration even while participants report more empathetic concern and “understanding of what the disability experience is like.”

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