Crip for a day: The unintended negative consequences of disability simulations


Nario-Redmond, M. R., Gospodinov, D., & Cobb, A. (2017). Crip for a day: The unintended negative consequences of disability simulations. Rehabilitation Psychology, 62(3), 324-333.


The authors measured mood, self-ascribed disability stereotypes, attitudes about interacting with people with disability, and intention to interact with people with disability (by participating in a campus accessibility program) before and after two disability-awareness simulations. Although these kinds of simulations are designed to increase empathy and connection, they do not always have the desired effect and may in fact increase stereotypes.  In the first experiment, undergraduate students were engaged in simulations of dyslexia, hearing impairment, or mobility impairment in a public campus space.  In the second experiment, undergraduates with and without disability completed simulations of visual impairment, hearing impairment and dyslexia in the laboratory.  In terms of mood, participants reported an increase in confusion and anxiety after simulating mobility impairment and dyslexia.  Participants also reported feeling more embarrassed, frustrated, and helpless following the simulation.  They did, however, feel more empathetic concern and more aware of the possibility that they could become disabled.  However, despite these potentially positive changes, the participants were no more likely to volunteer to improve campus accessibility and they expressed greater discomfort with interactions with people who have disability.  These findings reinforce previous studies that have demonstrated that simulations that focus on the early experience of impairment without including awareness of social and cultural barriers and discrimination serve to increase negative emotions towards people with disability. 

I CHOSE THIS ARTICLE BECAUSE, I think it is important to understand methodologies that do and do not improve attitudes towards people with disabilities.  Further, I thought it was important to measure the effects of disability simulations on mood and on specific behaviors, such as willingness to work on improving campus accessibility.  As the authors suggest, these data point to the need to increase awareness of architectural barriers, discriminatory public policy and other restrictions rather than merely simulating the physical impairments.

THIS MONTH’S REHAB SCIENCE SPOTLIGHT was selected by Sarah A. Raskin, Ph.D. ABPP/ABCN, Professor of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Program
at Trinity College and a member of Division 22’s Science Committee.