The new research from Hiram College, which is titled "Crip For a Day," shows another side of disability simulation experiments. The researchers explained that while disability simulations did make able-bodied people feel warmer and more kindly towards the disabled, the able-bodied didn't feel better about interacting with disabled people. "Disability simulations made [able-bodied] participants feel more confused, embarrassed, helpless, and more vulnerable to becoming disabled themselves compared to baseline," the scientists wrote. They continued:
"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. Frustration, guilt, anxiety, and depression were most pronounced among those who interacted with disabled people less than once per month."
The problem here should be obvious. Being disabled can be a challenging experience, but if simulations are simply producing distress without actually improving able-bodied peoples' ideas about the disabled community, they're not working. In 2014, scientists from the University of Colorado, Boulder, published results that showed that able-bodied people who do physical simulation exercises actually rate disabled people as less competent afterwards, and are more likely to believe negative stereotypes about the disabled.
There are two other big criticisms of disability simulations. One is that they simply don't go far enough, and can't give an accurate picture. Another, related criticism is that they're restricted by time, and many of the biggest issues of living with a disability come with cumulative frustration and stress over time. The Division of Disability Resources & Educational Services at the University of Illinois explicitly refuses to let able-bodied students attempt to experience disability using things like wheelchairs, because, as they point out, these sorts of experiences are limited, "other" disabled people, and make able-bodied people feel, falsely, as if they really understand what disability is like.
Able-bodied people, by definition, are also bad at being disabled. Toby Olson, executive secretary of the Washington state Governor's Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, explains that this is a key problem:
"If you participate in a simulation, what you experience will not be at all like a slice from the life of a person who has lived with that disability for any time. The difference will not be because you'll know that you'll be taking off the blindfold or walking away from the wheelchair at the end. The difference will be because, without any of the coping skills and techniques people with disabilities create and master throughout their lives, the best you will be able to manage will be to emulate the experience of being the single most hapless, incompetent individual with that particular disability on the face of the planet."
Simulations, as Olson and other people point out, don't exactly give an accurate impression of life with a disability, and can in fact reinforce negative stereotypes. Disability rights advocate Emily Ladau wrote for the Huffington Post, "It may make a person more aware of another person’s experiences, but it doesn’t dig deep to the root of discrimination against people with minority identities. Instead, it’s more likely to evoke empathy or pity than true acceptance." Pity, inaccurate and skewed views of what being disabled is "really like," and alarm and distress aren't the ways to provide better links between able-bodied and disabled people. They may actually just make things worse.