Simulations for disability awareness?

Do simulation activities help non-disabled people understand the experiences of disabled people? Many are questioning this.

İllinois University (2018)

“Disability simulators don’t work, but there are other ways to be an able bodied ally”  (2017) :

Disability simulations tend to be given to people who work with disabled people regularly — care workers and teachers, for instance — and some studies reveal that they can do some good. A 2017 study of nursing students, for instance, found that the students’ attitudes towards disabled people seemed to improve after doing a disability empathy activity, and a 2016 study of trainee teachers noted that those who did one were more likely to advocate for and be empathetic to future disabled students. This new science reveals, however, that they’re not as effective as they might look.

Disability Simulations – Promoting empathy or pity? (2014)


A 2009 Summary from Claire Wickham, UWE Bristol, UK

The prime reason for not using simulations is concern that they may cause misconceptions thereby creating additional barriers rather than reducing them. Simulations detract attention from the individuality of the user; everyone has different mechanisms for dealing with impairment and a generic simulation – while demonstrating the barrier – doesn’t (can’t) address lived experience.

The balance to this is that while simulations can be considered offensive (How can you possibly ‘know’ what it’s like) they do offer experiential insight which raises awareness of potential barriers thus encouraging change in practice. The most acceptable alternative appear to be the use of existing literature and video as demonstration rather than a temporary replication of impairment which can only ever fall short of the reality.

This report is published with the kind permission of its author,  Sue Watling (Learning and Teaching Coordinator,  Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD), University of Lincoln, UK.  Date around 2008)

Note:  “Any use of video to demonstrate “what it is like” should be used to lead onto a consideration of barriers and solutions i.e. as an exercise towards inclusion. The problem with some of the video demos is that they can lead to some viewers responding with “how does the disabled person do anything?” and feeling powerless to facilitate learning.”  (Claire Wickham, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK. 2009)

Online simulations

SimDis by Techdis

Vischeck colour blindness simulation

WebAim Screen Reader Simulation

WebAim Low Vision Simulation

WebAim Dyslexia Simulation

WebAim Distractability Simulation

Active Learning in Computing (ALiC) Computing Science CETL, Leeds Met

Loughborough DsylexSim (not free)



Burgstahler, S., and Doe, T. (2004). Disability-related simulations: If, when, and how to use them. Review of Disability Studies, 1(2), 4-17.

Flower, A., Burns, M. K. and Bottsford-Miller, N.A. (2007) Meta-Analysis of Disability Simulation Research. Remedial and Special Education, 28, 2: 72-79.

French, S. (1992) Simulation Exercises in Disability Awareness Training: A Critique. Disability and Society, 7,  3: 257 – 266.

Papadopoulos, G and Pearson, E (2007) Accessibility awareness raising and continuing professional development: The use of simulations as a motivational tool. ALT online newsletter 2007: 7



The Wrong Message by Valerie Brew-Parrish (1997) and The Wrong Message update (2004)

Smith, J.W. (1997) Disability Simulation That Works. The Braille Monitor 40, 4