Learning Curve

What It's Like To Be Disabled

“This film changes people’s lives,” Dr. Martha Rose, a professor of special education at Salve Regina University, told me. “I’ve seen teachers transformed by it.” The film, How Difficult Can This Be?, is a PBS documentary about Rick Lavoie, an educator with many years of experience in the field of learning disabilities. I took Martha at her word and ordered a copy of the film to share with my colleagues here in India. She was right. The film has changed our lives, and we are doing our best to make sure it changes a few others.

As part of our work in disability here, the organization I’m with runs an awareness campaign to increase public understanding of the subject and to inculcate a spirit of acceptance when it comes to differences. We offer many approaches, ranging from seminars, workshops, and lectures to more interactive exercises in which people experience what it might be like to have a disability. This is fairly simple to do with physical difficulties, visual handicaps, and hearing problems. We put someone in a wheelchair and ask her to negotiate a gravel driveway or a flight of stairs. We give another participant a pair of dark glasses smeared with Vaseline and ask him to get from point A to point B, using only a map with very small print. We give a third person earplugs and a motorcycle helmet, then start a conversation and get visibly exasperated when she doesn’t respond. Participants report that the...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Jo McGowan, a Commonweal columnist, writes from Deradoon, India.