Disability Simulation for digital Accessibility

the idea of temporarily simulating a disability has become popular. The actor and moderator Jenke von Wilmsdorf has slipped into the role of different people with disabilities in the current season of his show.

In some cases it can be useful for a non-disabled person to simulate a disability. For example, the rehabilitation teachers who teach the blind about mobility techniques have to walk around blindfolded and with a white cane for a while. Logical, because they have to be able to put themselves in the position of a blind person.

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Simulation is not equal to be disabled

Of course, there is a huge difference between a real disability and a simulated disability. The point of such simulations cannot be to know what disability means. It's more about increasing empathy and sensitivity in people who don't have a clue about disability. In my experience you can lecture people for hours about it, but experiencing something for yourself - even if it's only for a few minutes - is much more vivid and impressive. There is also something playful about the otherwise pedagogically overblown subject.

For example, in many schools there are projects where the students are introduced to the topic in a playful way. Armed with wheelchairs and folding rules, many classes test locations in their city for accessibility. I was pleasantly surprised at how many concepts there are already on this topic. Telekom has just published a teaching package for high-performance with a handicap.

I am sure that the impression made on the children will be more lasting than if they had attended any lecture. In addition, people with disabilities are often involved in these projects, so the principle "Nothing about us without us" has been implemented.

Simulate low vision and blindness

To simulate some visual impairments, you can get some adapted glasses in specialist shops. They simulate, for example, different eyesight or certain visual impairments. Such glasses are also available, for example, in an inclusion package from the VdK Gefrees.

If smart glasses a la Google Glass ever establish themselves on the market, the possibilities for simulating visual impairments should increase significantly.

There are also various aids on the web for simulating color vision deficiency. The free app SehBiS also simulates some visual impairments.

In the case of blindness, the matter is even simpler. Just blindfold or go to a dark cafe. There should be these dark cafes in every major city. In some places there are special obstacle courses where the experience for the sighted can be intensified.

There are relatively cheap tactile sticks on eBay or Amazon that you can play a little blind with. These sticks cannot replace a real cane for the white, but they are sufficient for a taste test. It's funny to observe the reaction of the sighted to the blind. As soon as you hold a cane in your hand, many people suddenly become friendly, walk around ten meters around the blind person - which could be contagious - or gape at him like an alien. This shows that there is still a lot of educational work to be done.

Hardness of hearing and deafness

To simulate a certain form of hearing loss, it is enough to get a track with a lot of noise. You copy it to your cell phone or MP3 player, turn up the headphones so much that the noise fills your ear canal and try taking part in a party conversation. There is a whole diploma thesis on simulating inner ear hearing loss.

Deafness can be simulated with earplugs. I found some reviews worth reading about it. Hearing people don't even notice how much they use their sense of hearing, at least passively, to hear approaching cars, for example. There are now headphones that isolate from outside noise and should have a similar effect, but they are quite expensive.

Motor disabilities

Here, of course, the wheelchair is the best aid. If you don't have one at hand, you can use weights or bandages, which impair the mobility of your legs or arms.

There is even an age simulation suit.

The hemiparesis suit works in a similar way.

Cognitive Disability

Cognitive disabilities are not easy to simulate.

I therefore recommend reading the relevant literature. Such disorders also play a larger role in popular culture. The character Sheldon from the comedy series Big Bang Theory is said to have traits of Asperger's autism. Computer games are often more vivid than pure experience reports.


Simulating disability is viewed rather critically in the disability community. Many people think that this trivializes their own experiences. However, old-school pedagogy has reached a dead point. If a disabled person gives a lecture about disabled people and almost only disabled people come, you don't have to be a genius to know that something isn't working properly.

One may view this critically, but direct experience is much more lasting than all well-intentioned advice, admonitions and appeals. We would be much further along today if the activating approaches had been used 30 years ago.

Therefore, not only students but also adults should undergo such awareness training. You can certainly make it playful and incorporate it into a company outing, for example.

The results cannot be denied. The earplug wearer linked above has discovered how important a role hearing plays and how dangerous life can be for deaf people. Sighted visitors to dark cafés report how strongly their other senses are heightened. And at the same time, they talk to people in the dark who they would probably never have met in the light, let alone exchanged a word with. One guy told me he spontaneously fell in love with the voice of a girl he met there.