The disability simulation that I choose to do was to rent a wheelchair from the mall and spend an hour navigating around the mall in the wheelchair. The reason that I choose this simulation is because I thought it would be a great idea for me to experience what obstacles the people who are in wheelchairs have to endure on a daily basis in simple day-to-day activities. There are many things that people without disabilities, more specifically in this simulation people not in wheelchairs, do every single day without even thinking that people who are in wheelchairs have to make modifications or work harder to do the same thing.
I felt knowing what people in wheelchairs have to go through on a daily basis would help me setting up a classroom to make it wheelchair accessible if I ever had to. I would want to make sure a student in a wheelchair had the same opportunity to learn just as much as any other student. I went to the Marketplace Mall in Henrietta, NY on February 3rd 2011 at 11:00 AM to complete this assignment. Being in a wheelchair during my visit to the mall was definitely a completely different experience from when I usually go to the mall.
I think one of the biggest obstacles that I had to overcome was when navigating through the stores a lot of the clothing racks were spaced very close together. This made it extremely difficult getting around in some of the stores or getting to some clothing racks located in the center of other racks. I know from previous visits to the mall that even without being in a wheelchair some of those racks are hard to go or walk through but trying to do it in a wheelchair wasn’t just an inconvenience, it was nearly impossible.
Sometimes I enjoy going to the mall by myself but being in a wheelchair would make that normally delightful thing a very difficult and painstakingly thing to do. It is much easier having someone there to push you around and get you through the stores rather than trying to navigate the wheelchair solo. Due to going to the mall on a Thursday afternoon it was not very busy so there weren’t many other customers to worry about or try to move around. A wheelchair can be bulky so if it’s busy I can imagine people would get annoyed very easily trying to walk around me along with me becoming annoyed at trying to make sure I am not hitting people.
That being said, it was not busy on Thursday so was not difficult but if someone in a wheelchair went to the mall on a Saturday or Sunday it would be very difficult to get around because the malls tend to be very packed on the weekend. Take account how busy malls become during the holiday season on just about every day of the week and Christmas shopping would be even worse. Another issue was going into the dressing rooms to try clothes on. Not all stores had handicap accessible dressing rooms, which meant small doors and small ally ways to get to the rooms.
There is no way a wheelchair could fit in any of these ally ways or through the doors. What this meant was the stores that did not have handicap accessible dressing rooms I had to actually get up out of the wheelchair and walk into the dressing room instead of going right into the dressing room with the wheelchair. For someone that is handicapped to the point where they have the wheelchair due to not being able to walk at all, being able to try on clothes in one of these stores without help would virtually be impossible.
If the person had a wheelchair but could walk a little bit, it still would be very difficult maybe even dangerous for even them to try on clothes in one of these stores. The food court presented many of the same problems. The tables are spaced closed together and pair that with many fixed chairs that cannot be moved made it very hard to find a table in which I could eat. I had to pick a table on the outside meaning two things. A person in a wheelchair has a small percentage of tables they can choose from meaning they’d have to basically stalk people sitting on the outside tables waiting for them to leave.
On a busy Saturday this would prove to be very difficult. Those tables in the middle open with no one sitting at them would go to waste simply due to the fact they couldn’t be reached. Not as big as a deal, but I am shorter so trying to reach the food counter could be difficult. Some of the condiments were set up higher on a stand and I had to ask the worker for help. During my disability simulation assignment not only did I document the difficulties I had but I also tried to pay close attention to the other people around me.
I thought it would be important to see the reactions and looks the workers and other customers would have when seeing someone in a wheelchair. I noticed many people staring, pointing, and whispering at the sight of me in a wheelchair. I think what people noticed and questioned the most is seeing someone in a wheelchair at my age with no visible signs of a disability. It’s my assumption a lot of what the people were doing was trying to figure out the exact reason on why I was in the wheelchair. Most people that are seen in a wheelchair tend to be older or have a visible or obvious sign of a disability.
So basically I think most people were trying to figure out what was wrong with me and what the reason someone my age could possibly need a wheelchair for. As for the actual employees themselves, I noticed them being less attentive to me as apposed to someone not in a wheelchair. If I or another customer needed help with an item the employee almost always seemed to give their attention to the other customer before they helped me. I am sure it was all subconscious but its almost as if they felt the other person was more likely to make the purchase so deserved the attention first.
I had decided to do a small experiment on how people would react to me or how they would choose to interact with me. While I was shopping I dropped one of my bags on the floor. I made sure to make it appear that without getting out of the wheelchair it would be very difficult for me to get the bag myself. At first I just acted as if I was trying to reach it and see if someone would just offer to get it for me. After a few people walked by without offering a hand I decide to take it one step further. The next person that walked by I asked if they could pick it up for me.
They did, but the person acted very distant and almost like they were scared. It was like they thought I had some infectious disease that they could contract if they got near me. At first how that person reacted really shocked me. I can’t imagine ever reacting to someone like that in a wheelchair or to someone with any sort of disability. I did however start to understand maybe why that person reacted that way. I think once again not seeing any evidence of why I was in the wheelchair threw that person and other people off. People tend to be afraid of the unknown.
Maybe if I had a cast on my leg to indicate a broken leg people would have been more forthcoming. Seeing how people reacted to me in a wheelchair by pointing and whispering to each other made me think about if I have ever done the same thing. Although I can’t think of any specific situation, I am sure that I have before. After doing this simulation I will definitely do everything in my power to not judge people that are disabled. I know a lot of it is without thinking or is the need to question the unknown but still now actually experiencing it myself I think I would be more in control of my thought toward disabilities.
Now, relating it to my future career goal, doing this assignment really helped me understand what disabled children go through on a daily basis in the classroom. I think one of the biggest problems is how poorly some classrooms are set up that have students with wheelchairs in them. Many times the desks in a classroom are very closely spaced together allowing very little room for a child in a wheelchair to get to the board or just to navigate around the room. Also the way that teachers set up their learning centers need to be set up so children with wheelchairs can navigate through them.
I think they best way to accommodate children in wheelchairs is to group the desks into pairs and make sure there is enough room between the pairs of desks for the students to get through the desks. Seeing how people reacted to me at the mall I believe that students in the primary grades should participate in disability awareness exercises. Some students might not have any interaction to people with disabilities so these exercises can be very beneficial so when they do come in contact to people with disabilities they know how to react.
I don’t think very many students get taught about disabilities and that leads to a lot of bullying when they come in contact to children with disabilities. I know I was never taught about disabilities when I was in school and when I was younger and came across a person with disabilities I felt extremely uncomfortable and didn’t really know how to act. I also think that teachers need to encourage families to make children aware of people with disabilities. There are books that parents can read to their children and parents can also do disability awareness exercises at home.
I definitely think this disability awareness assignment was extremely beneficial to me on a personal level as well as a professional level. It mainly taught me how other people see people with disabilities. I don’t think I have every really stepped back and noticed how people who are different, like having a disability, are treated or looked upon nor have I every really been aware of how people react. I feel like maybe I have starred at people with disabilities before and after doing this assignment I definitely will be more aware of my action and never do that again.
I now know what it feels like to be starred and pointed at and it’s not a great feeling. I really don’t know if I can think of a way to improve this assignment because it really did a great job of giving me a good indication of how people with a certain disability feel and a lot of the challenges that they have to go through on a day to day basis. I would highly recommend any one who will be doing any sort of work with the public, like myself as a future teacher, to do the same or a similar exercise to become familiar with the challenges people are different may face.