While having the best motorized wheelchair makes getting around easier, using a wheelchair still presents challenges, something that able-bodied people sometimes have difficulty understanding and appreciating.
One instructor at Bethel College in South Bend, Indiana recognizes that challenge and wanted to make sure his students appreciate that challenge and came up with a way to have them experience it for themselves. For one day, his able-bodied students spent the day in wheelchairs trying to navigate the campus.
The goal was to make them more sympathetic towards students with physical limitations. The students told TV station WSBT that while they knew using a wheelchair for the day was going to be difficult, it was even harder than thought it would be.
“It’s been really stressful,” said Kali Hilliard, a junior. “I’ve noticed that I’ve had to leave for classes a lot earlier. Going up and down hills has not been the easiest, and we do get quite a lot of looks.”
“It was an extremely humbling experience,” said Brandon Burkhart, sophomore.
Hilliard said the experience made her appreciate that her daily stresses were not so bad in comparison to those of people with disabilities.
Many students felt like they were treated differently.
Burkhart said people looked at him like they felt sorry for him.
Most of the students who took place in the exercise are elementary education students. The instructor for the class, professor Stephen Govorko, says he saw a lot of bullying during his teaching career and hopes this assignment has an impact on the future teachers.
“I think I’ll develop a lot more patience with our children that have disabilities and that are in wheelchairs. And have to realize that they take a lot more time to get from one place to the other, than the majority of the class,” said Hilliard.
“We need to dwell on their abilities, not their disabilities,” Govorko said.