Promote Inclusion with Disability Simulations

Abstract image with wheelchair basketball

This article appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Abilities Digest.

It’s a no-brainer, right? The best way to teach kids about disability awareness is to give them an experience that simulates a disability.  Since Scouting is an experience-based program, that is our first instinct.  But just dropping a blindfold or earmuffs or crutches on a kid is getting the EDGE method (explain – demonstrate – guide – enable) backwards.  Roger Tate, the editor for the Inclusion Toolbox for Special Needs and Disabilities shares that, “The disability advocacy organizations I worked with were worried that simulations make living with a disability seem harder than it is and people with disabilities look less capable than they are.”

If we want to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DEI) society, we want our kids to come away after a simulation with a feeling that people with disabilities can do a lot more than it looks like and that they are not that different from anyone else. We don’t want to evoke pity. We want Scouts to be Helpful without babying people. For that to happen, the leader of the simulation activity needs to explain and guide.

The secret sauces for a disability simulation are the introduction discussion beforehand and the reflection discussion afterward.  The details of how to do this need to take into account the ages of the Scouts participating.  A Tiger Cub will understand the experience differently than a high-school age Scout or Venturer and have different take-aways.  Just like many of our core Scout skills, we want to keep exposing Scouts over and over, at each level of Scouting, with increasing levels of challenge.

The Framingham Special Education Parent Advisory Council ( has an excellent summary entitled Disability Awareness Fair Ideas ( They recommend some core concepts to introduce before a simulation. First, the simulation will seem harder for you than for the person with the disability because it’s your first taste of this and you haven’t had a chance to adapt and learn. Second, even though you will learn, you won’t have learned everything about it. It’s similar to how being a person of another race or gender is different from imagining what it is like.  Third, people with disabilities don’t just adapt their actions, they adapt their attitudes and emotions so that the disability is just one aspect of who they are and the whole person is something so much greater.

The point of reflection is to internalize the knowledge from the experience so it makes more of an impact. With a good introduction discussion, most Scouts will figure out what you wish to teach them from the experience.  Having them put the ideas, sensations and feelings into their own words will help them hold on to the knowledge for later.  A few will need some coaxing to express themselves, and a few may need a gentle nudge to shift from ableist attitudes to more inclusive and respectful attitudes.