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18th June 2014

Learning From Experience

Woman Blue EyesA recent media article debates the fad of ‘disability simulation’ software. Is it disrespectful, or a powerful tool to illustrate the experience of the people we support?

In a thought-provoking article on the BBC’s ‘Ouch’ disability blog, the topic of using simulation to help raise awareness of how it is to have a disability was raised. Apparently, these days there are computer programmes that simulate how it is to have autism, dyslexia or sensory problems.

Sympathy versus Empathy

It is commonplace for people teaching new carers about the impact of being reliant on others to use role playing techniques. I recall, as a student nurse, the session where we were obliged to take turns in being spoon-fed cold gravy and peas, to show how unpleasant it was to receive such ‘assistance’. The powerlessness was overwhelming, but my lasting memory of the day was the smell of the bib we were made to wear and the foul greasy taste.

Of course, a room full of twenty-year-old student nurses making a mess with sloppy food was a long way from quality learning time, but the intention of experiential learning was a good one. It reinforces the idea that you should never treat anyone in a way that you would not want to be treated yourself. This type of learning is criticized by some as creating a sense of pity in the student, rather than the need to empower.

Positive experience

One of my favourite jobs these days is lecturing to student nurses about the woeful lack of awareness of visual impairment in people with learning disabilities. My session uses simulator specs to imitate eye conditions like cataract and glaucoma. I also use some excellent video material that simulates the visual field of a person with hemianopia, a condition where half of the visual field is missing, or cortical visual impairment which can result in poor motion recognition or light and colour sensitivity.

Using this type of training aid has been widely praised by RNIB, who work to raise awareness of sight loss and its impact on daily living. My point is to raise awareness of how it is when the sufferer cannot describe themselves what they can or cannot see. I use the simulation to help students recognise behaviours that Service Users may display that can result from a lack of useful vision.

Here is a link to the article, so maybe you can read and debate yourself what the benefits and drawbacks are to simulation. I don’t think I will be abandoning this powerful tool anytime soon, but it does provide some food for thought.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-ouch-27763085

Ginny Tyler

Learning Disabilities Specialist

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