Viewing the work of disability services differently


Awareness Activities

What Is Current Practice?

Disability awareness events, activities, and publications are widely used to increase the awareness of, and sensitivity to the abilities and needs of people with disabilities. Typical events focus on etiquette, simulation, understanding disabilities, myths, and compliance.

View Examples:

  • Disability Awareness (Month, Week, Day)
  • disAbility Awareness
Sample 1: Etiquette

Learn about the do’s and don’ts when interacting with a disabled person.

Rules for Communicating with People with Disabilities
  1. When talking with a person with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or Sign Language interpreter.
  2. When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands. For those who cannot shake hands, touch the person on the shoulder or arm to welcome and acknowledge their presence.
  3. When meeting a person with a visual impairment, always identify yourself and others who may be with you.
  4. If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen to or ask for instructions.
  5. Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending that same familiarity to all others present.
  6. Leaning or hanging on a person’s wheelchair is similar to leaning or hanging on a person and is generally considered annoying.
  7. Listen attentively when you’re talking with a person who has difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for the person.
  8. When speaking with a person in a wheelchair, place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation.
  9. To get the attention of a person who is hearing impaired, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly and expressively to establish if the person can read your lips.
  10. Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use accepted, common expressions, such as, “See you later,” or “Did you hear about this” that seem to relate to the person’s disability. Anyone can make mistakes. Offer an apology if you forget some courtesy. Keep a sense of humor and a willingness to communicate.
Sample 2: Simulation

Learn what it is like to experience a disability. Common disability simulations include spending a day in a wheelchair, going into the community blindfolded, or playing sports with one arm tied behind your back. A partner who simulates providing supports often joins participants. Examples:

  • BLIND – Put on a blindfold to feel braille, walk around building
  • FINE MOTOR ISSUES – Put on rubber gloves and then try to tie shoes or button a shirt; put socks on hands and try to pick up a dime.
  • SENSORY ISSUES – Try on gloves with sandpaper or stick a small piece of sandpaper on the inside of clothing/ label tags.
  • ADD/ADHD – Listen to a story on headphones while at the same time somebody asks about your favorite school subject/food/movie to experience what kids with auditory-processing problems might face.
  • DEAF/HARD OF HEARING – Put cotton balls in ears and then listen to instructions at each station.
  • MOBILITY/ FLEXIBILITY ISSUES – Try to pull a sticker off your back without raising arms above the chest (e.g., loss of flexibility). Sit in a wheelchair or use crutches. Tie a dowel or ruler to the back of the leg so that the leg could not bend; then try putting on trousers, shorts, socks, shoes etc. and walk upstairs. Join in a game that involves sitting on the floor and then getting up and running. Put “dominant” arm into a sling or tie a dowel to arm so it can’t bend or strap fingers together – Drink a glass of juice, make a sandwich. Tie a shoe lace.
  • VISION PROBLEMS – Put on non-prescription glasses covered with petroleum jelly and try to read a label on a pill or cough medicine bottle (e.g., blurred vision). For participants with glasses, place plastic wrap over their glasses for a similar effect. Hold a large distorted magnifying lens and walk on a line of tape on the floor that is hard to see through the lens.
  • DYSLEXIA – Try to read or draw by looking through a mirror, seeing what someone with dyslexia might see.
Sample 3: Understanding Disabilities (hidden vs. visible, specific conditions)

Learn about specific disabilities such as learning disorders, attention deficit disorders, psychiatric disorders, chronic health impairments, sensory impairments, mobility impairments, traumatic brain injuries, etc.

Sample 4: Disability Specific Fact Sheets or Presentations
  • What is the condition?
  • How common?
  • What are the signs and symptoms?
  • What is the treatment?
  • What special services are required at school?
  • Tips
  • Resources
Sample 5: Myths/Facts

Learn about common myths, misinformation, and assumptions about disabled people

Myth: People with disabilities are usually very sedate and unable to participate in recreational activities.

Fact: People with disabilities lead diverse lives and take part in any sport or hobby you can think of including: mountain climbing, kayaking, dancing, horseback riding, scuba diving, racing, skiing, tennis and skydiving.

Myth: Blind people have exceptional hearing.

Fact: A person’s vision, or lack of vision, does not affect their hearing. However, someone who is blind may depend more on their hearing and be more attuned to sounds than a sighted counterpart.

Myth: Students with learning disabilities have low intelligence or are slow learners.

Fact: Students with learning disabilities (LD) have at least average to high average intelligence and many are gifted. Many people with LD are successful: singers Tony Bennett and Jewel, actors Patrick Dempsey and Whoopi Goldberg, Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea, and author Avi to name a few.

Myth: People with disabilities always need help.

Fact: Many people with disabilities are independent and capable of giving help. If you would like to help someone with a disability, ask if he or she needs it before you act.

Sample 6: Compliance and the Law

Learn about federal and state laws that mandate access and how to avoid lawsuits.

  • What Are Discriminatory Acts?
  • Who Is Qualified?
  • What Constitutes a Request for Accommodation?
  • Examples of Reasonable Accommodation
  • What is an undue burden?
  • What are the minimum requirements?

What are the implicit messages?

  • It is possible to fully understand disability by “trying on” a condition for a brief time.
  • Some people are “normal” and some people aren’t.
  • Disability is tragic and catastrophic and requires societal good will and charity. This messaging can cause disabled people to lose dignity and self-respect and become discouraged from developing a positive self-identity.
  • Disabled people are so different that special tips and strategies are required to interact with them.
  • Non-disabled people can speak for and are experts on the disability experience.

How might this be different?

Disability awareness events, activities, and publications are widely used to:

  • Create understanding of the disability experience
  • Reframe society’s conceptualization of disability and relocate the “problem of disability”
  • Celebrate the experience and history of disability
  • Identify strategies for designing inclusive communities

Possible Titles:

  • Disability History Week
  • Reframing Disability
  • Challenging the Concept of Normalcy
  • Discrimination By Design

Guided by disability studies and a sociopolitical perspective of disability have events focus on:

  • Personal narratives of the disability experience
  • Performance art
  • Fine arts displays
  • History of disability
  • Design and its impact
  • Portrayals of disability in film and media
  • Disability in literature
  • Book readings and discussion
  • Disability studies research
  • Discussions exploring problems with awareness events

What is the potential impact of this change?

  • The disability resource office is seen as having a leadership role in creating opportunities to explore disability with depth and seriousness.
  • Socialized views of disability and normalcy, represented in language, media, educational curriculae, and design, are challenged. Disability is viewed as a difference rather than a tragedy.
  • Disability is a key aspect of the human experience.
  • The campus commitment is not simply a reaction to legal requirements but a part of a larger institutional commitment to equity to diversity, social justice and equity.
  • The experience of disability is re-imagined and re-narrated.

Related Resources

Fox, A. (2010). “How to Crip the Undergraduate Classroom: Lessons from Performance, Pedagagy, and Possibility.” Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability. Association on Higher Education and Disability: 23 (1), 39 - 49.

Naro-Redmond, Michelle. New research shows role-playing disability promotes distress, discomfort and disinterest Available at:

Awareness Days: Some Alternatives to Simulation Exercises. Ragged Edge on line. Sept/Oct 2003 Available at: href="