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Experiences of Disability Simulations Open Access


Other title
Disability Simulations
Situated learning
Lived experience
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Leo, Jennifer A
Supervisor and department
Goodwin, Donna (Physical Education and Recreation)
Examining committee member and department
Causgrove Dunn, Janice (Physical Education and Recreation)
Manns, Trish (Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine)
Chorney, David (Faculty of Education)
Connolly, Maureen (Applied Heath Sciences- Kinesiology, Brock University)
Physical Education and Recreation

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Disability simulations are experiential learning activities that have been used to simulate the functional and cultural experiences associated with disability. Despite their widespread use in post-secondary settings (e.g., physical education, recreation, medicine, and nursing), there is dis-agreement about their ethical use, value, and efficacy, within the field of adapted physical activi-ty. The purpose of this dissertation was to examine the use of disability simulations as a peda-gogical tool in an adapted physical activity post-secondary setting. In Study One, interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used to examine how disability simulations were experi-enced by undergraduate students in a required adapted physical activity course. The experiences of four students were captured through reflective journals and one-on-one interviews over the course of one term. The conceptual framework of situated learning, specifically the concepts of artefacts (i.e., wheelchairs) and their visibility were used to interpret the findings. The findings were focused on the participants’ emotional responses towards the use of wheelchairs as disabil-ity artefacts, their heightened awareness of the environmental barriers associated with culturally and socially normative activities, and their management of discomfort with the knowledge that simulations are temporary experiences. In Study Two, an autoethnographic study was completed to explore meaning making as a graduate student teaching assistant tasked with leading disability simulation activities. Data were comprised of reflective journals. Through the preparation of rep-resentational vignettes, stories across the professional and practical knowledge landscapes were presented. Ableism provided a useful lens for understanding a non-disabled instructor’s reflec-tions on leading disability simulations. The reflections centred on instructor competence as a way to legitimize the instructor’s position in the teaching setting, the influence of expertism, ableist norms, and assumptions (e.g., disability as desirable lived experience to support professionally, yet not an experience one would choose personally), and uneasiness with the absence of authen-tic disability experiences within the use of disability simulations. In Study Three seven members of the disability community shared their thoughts, ideas, and experiences on disability simulation use. The IPA methods of reflective writing and one-on-one interviews were utilized to capture participants’ experiences. The participants’ experiences were once again interpreted through the lens of ableism to illustrate possible tensions of disability representation by non-disabled instruc-tors through simulated embodiment of impairment. The participants disclosed a collective ques-tioning of their absence from the design and delivery of disability simulations, they spoke to a juxtaposition of disability reality with simulations and they revealed conflicting views between the role of fun as an engagement strategy or as a distraction from deeper reflection. The com-bined findings of the studies in this dissertation provided insights into the assumptions, percep-tions, and experiences of disability simulation use in post-secondary settings. The visibility and performativity associated with disability simulations led, in part, to the reinforcement of disabil-ity as an undesirable way of being in the world. This expression by students and the instructor occurred even in light of theoretically grounded classroom discussions that people are not solely defined by the disabling impacts of physical, social and cultural barriers. To unseat ableistic be-liefs, values and assumptions, involvement of members of the disability community in the plan-ning and implementation of simulations was deemed essential so as not to perpetuate stigmatiz-ing discourses of disabled embodiment. Involving members of the disability community intro-duces a possible strategy to bring about awareness of the social, cultural, and political factors that influence lived experiences of disability beyond the brief, simulated pedagogical activities. The use of disability simulations as a pedagogical tool has a complexity that is layered with ableist assumptions that have underpinned their design and facilitation, and the social, cultural, and political factors that have influenced the various perspectives of community members who may or may not have lived experiences of disability.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
Citation for previous publication
Leo, J., & Goodwin, D. (2014). Negotiated meanings of disability simulations in an adapted physical activity course: Learning from student reflections. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 31, 144-162.Leo, J., & Goodwin, D. L. (In Press). Simulating others’ realities: Insiders reflect on disability simulations. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly.

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