On Monday morning, the Shepherd Union was filled with students leading their peers as they wore foggy lab glasses, or pushing themselves around in wheelchairs.

A closer look at these students showed that none of them were in fact blind, or needed a wheelchair.

Carly Ferrin and Ashleigh King participated in the FEA conference this past week. They got to simulate having a disability so that they could have better empathy for them. (Photo by: Jean Norman)
Carly Ferrin and Ashleigh King participated in the FEA Conference this past week. They simulated having a disability so that they could have more empathy for those with disabilities. (Photo by: Jean Norman)

These were students from various high schools who were taking part in a Future Educators Association Conference. They were particularly interested in studying education for the mentally or physically disabled.

They took part in this simulation so they could have a fraction of an understanding as to what disabled students feel.

One particular student, Madison Violette, was wearing glasses covered with tape, making it impossible for her to see.

Violette had a special connection to the students with disabilities, and a personal reason for wanting to participate in the simulation.

“It’s important to know what they’re going through so that we can have compassion for them and know how to take care of them,” Violette said. “I feel something special with the people in the special education program because I have a stutter.”

Not every student participating in the simulation was given a certain disability. Some students were assigned to act as peer tutors.

“If they need help I’m here for them. I’m acting as their peer tutor,” said Rachel Henriod, as student participating in the simulation. “So long as they ask for help, I will give it to them.”

Every student was given a certain disability. Some of the disabilities simulated for the students were orthopedic impairments, which confined them to a wheelchair.

Like Violette, many students had to walk through the Shepherd Union without sight. Other students had hearing impairment and some students even got to experience what it was like to have deaf-blindness.

“We wanted to give them an opportunity to experience having a disability, to raise awareness and empathy for those who have disabilities,” Jack Mayhew, a teacher in Weber State Universities special education department, said. “We wanted to do this to help the Future Educators Association and to get the students excited about becoming teachers.”

Throughout the simulation, students had to conquer a number of simple, everyday acts that people without disabilities would never have to think too hard about.

Students had to find seating in the food court or figure out how  to manage something as simple as going to the bathroom.

Mayhew pointed out that due to the new features in the Shepherd Union, handicap accessibility wasn’t as hard, but that buildings like the Mckay Education Building and the Social Sciences Building were hard to navigate for those with disabilities.

“I want to be able to help people (with disabilities) reach their highest potential,” Violette said. “Just like I’ve tried to.”

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