Category Archives: Training

Experiential Teaching

Our talk at IgniteGuelph seems to have revitalized discussion surrounding the benefits of experiential teaching methods such as empathetic models and simulation exercises, and the opposition to these by many in the disability community which I hope to address here.

Our session at the University of Guelph on Accessibility Education a month after the IgniteGuelph event looked at a dozen and a half examples of accessibility curriculums. The majority of which included experiential teaching methods, and all of those lauded the benefits as well. In fact, in the medical education system, where accessibility and disability education has enjoyed the longest history, the use of standardized patients is now a “mainstay” and the “substantial majority of medical schools use the standardized patient exercise to teach clinical skills and / or to assess clinical competence” and “the strengths render the standardized patient approach particularly well suited for teaching students about disability”.

The reasons for including experiential methods when teaching disability to medical students are numerous. One Occupational Therapy program used the days students spent in wheelchairs to both see what future patients encounter in terms of barriers but also to which muscles are required to maneuver and use the chair itself. But perhaps the two most important benefits of including experiential methods to teach disability to medical students is that the “allow for “teachable moments to be created, rather than waited for” and “reinforce role of patient as authoritative source of knowledge”.   

Two of the biggest arguments against experiential teaching methods are that they focus primarily on the limitations of disabilities and that disability can’t be taught.

Now I could use dozens of quotations extolling the virtues of experiential education by scholars, staff, and students but prefer instead to deal with my own personal experiences and motivations. What follows is not meant to be a justification, simply an explanation of our motivations for using them and what we see as the benefit.

I think that it is the objective of the teaching that is the most important factor in the debate, not the actual use of techniques themselves. At Roll a Mile, our use of such training methods is to increase awareness about accessibility and barriers to access. We are not attempting to teach about disability, we are trying to increase accessibility. Awareness is key to doing this, and while a few minutes spent ‘rolling a mile’ in a wheelchair will never get close to illuminating all of the accommodations, adaptations and barriers faced on a daily basis by someone who uses a wheelchair regularly, but it can raise awareness. And raising awareness is a good thing when it comes to barrier removal and increasing accessibility. I suppose my motives are selfish really, by raising awareness and increasing accessibility, I can more readily buy toothpaste.

I agree that disability is difficult to teach. To accurately simulate chronic-pain one would have to inflict constant, yet random, blows to the body with a baseball bat all the while having young children scream continuously in their ear. According to a jury-of-my-peers, this is not permissible. But seriously, using chronic, debilitating pain as an example, it would take years to properly simulate. Literally years. Years of slowly having every aspect of one’s life affected. Of losing family, friends and worst of all, your ability. Years to go through the stages of grief as you mourn the life you thought you would have, the functions you’ve lost. Years of losing your job(s), your savings, your car, your house, and your independence. Years of learning acceptance, adaptation and working within limitations. Years of adjusting to frequent medical visits to be poked and prodded, to have fluids removed and injected. Years of tests, and doctors, and the whole dysfunctional healthcare system. It would take years to properly convey to someone what living with chronic pain is like. Truly replicating any disability is impossible. Especially considering every disability is as unique as the individual with them.

And as for the concern that empathetic models tend to focus on the limitations of disability, I cannot help but strongly disagree. In my experience, anyone that ascends a ramp using a manual wheelchair, cannot help but gain a new awareness, appreciation and even admiration for anyone who does so on a regular basis. However, the use of terms like “capability-compromising exercises” does not serve to help the cause. At Roll a Mile we use “differing circumstance” models and simulation exercises that, rather than only exposing limitations, focus on adaptations and accommodations while providing firsthand familiarity with barriers to access. And it is this first-hand experience that we feel enable our participants to not only learn more, but to retain and engage more.

Teaching the rules and regulations of accessibility and the A.O.D.A. are important, but so to is ‘going beyond the building code’ to understanding the rationale behind the regulation. Accessibility needs to be presented from more than just that of policies, procedures and physical structures. We go beyond compliance as legislated accessibility is not actual accessibility.

Unfortunately, unless personally affected, most simply aren’t aware of issues of accessibility. And the truth is that most barriers to access exist simply as a lack of understanding, not an act of malice. The example I like to give for that is a local medical facility that had put a small table to act as a sanitation-station outside the entrance to an office. In this instance, the Building Code required clear-space, but really, doctors and nurses cannot be expected to know the Building Code, let alone how much additional effort is required by a person using a manual wheelchair or walker to gain entry when there is no clear space. Simply bringing this to the attention of the correct person resulted in removal of the barrier. Awareness is key to accessibility. And first-hand experiences can raise awareness significantly.

At Roll a Mile, our desired outcome is not to teach disability, but to increase awareness about accessibility and barriers to access. Our sessions and scenarios are tailored to reflect workplace realities so staff are able to provide proactive, adaptive, accommodating service and strive for understanding and awareness over empathy or pity. And we use empathetic models and simulation exercises to do it, because we truly believe their benefits outweigh their negatives.

Accessible Terminology

Normally I am of the opinion that there is too much time spent focusing on superfluous items such as appropriate terminology than on implementing actual accessibility, but there are a few glaring exceptions.

Invalid, for example, is one I dislike especially. Broken down, it quite literally is in-valid, meaning not valid, of no importance. And I’m sorry that my brain doesn’t always communicate effectively with the rest of my body, but that doesn’t invalidate me as a person. Confined can be bothersome, people are not ‘confined’ to, or by, wheelchairs (they are, confined by lack of ramps). Gimp reminds me of camp crafts and cripple of potato chips.

And truth be told, it is not the words themselves that bother me, but the attitudes behind the words. It is the attitude we must address, enlighten and overcome, not the words. And quite frankly, I really don’t care what you call me, I just want to be able to buy my own toothpaste. But I do care what you call others, and any word, when used to name-call, becomes negative. Again, not the word itself, but the motive behind the word.

But it is entirely different with the r-word. There is no need to use the r-word. Ever.

In a clinical sense, the word means slowed development. But as language continues it’s constant evolution, the r-word, like many others, has changed. The clinical definition was first adopted by society as a reference to people with intellectual or development delays. Like all labels, it is limiting, but also insulting and hurtful. There are many, many great articles and activists out there who express far more eloquently than I ever could, exactly how hurtful and hateful this word is, and I will link to a couple at the end of this post. The r-word should not be used, ever. There is no need, even from a clinical perspective or physics principle, there are other words we can use.

Today we see the word used as a slang substitute for stupid, ridiculous, idiotic.

For example, “I can’t believe the restaurant did that, it’s so r-word” or “you’re acting so r-word”.

To understand exactly how the connotation of this word has changed, and how inappropriate the use of it now is, try this; substitute a race or religion instead of the r-word in the example sentences above.

Get it now?

The meaning of the r-word has changed from meaning ‘slow development’ to meaning ‘ignorant’. As in, if you are still using the r-word, I think you sound ignorant.

Politically correct isn’t about trying to limit speech, it’s about trying to expand vocabulary to be inclusive.

Blog #2: Accessible Terminology, a Post-Script on PwD

A quick post-script to our previous blog on Accessible Terminology, there is one more term of reference I take issue with.

The A.O.D.A. advocates using the reference term ‘person with a disability’ and while I completely appreciate the sentiment behind it, putting the ‘person’ before the ‘disability’, I have two issues with it.

The first is that my disability comes before everything else. It comes before my being able to attend my son’s graduation, my ability to access buildings and businesses to do my job or perform daily functions of life. It came before my ability to join my local chamber of commerce. I am not whining or complaining, just stating a fact. My disability even dictates my fashion choices. For example, I now have to wear flats with good grip and not my pretty boots. Cross-body strap bags and purses free my hands to hold whatever assistive device I might need them for, ie) cane, walker, scooter, wheelchair. These are just simple facts of life and I truly am not complaining for I have a wonderful life, but my disability affects every single aspect of it. So for me, putting the person before the disability is a token gesture, while I truly appreciate the acknowledgement that I am indeed a person and not a disability, it is not going to relegate my disability to the background.

My second issue is that ‘person with a disability’ is cumbersome in both conversation and writing and has been shortened to ‘PwD’ in most references. Like any industry, we already have our fair share of abbreviations; A.O.D.A., a11y, O.H.I.P., O.D.S.P., P.S.W., but aside from PwD adding yet one more, it also tends to relegate us into one. We are now PwDs. Most persons with disabilities, have already, in a sense, become relegated to being abbreviations; A.D.D., C.P., M.S., C.O.P.D., A.L.S., M.D., C.F., F.M.S., we don’t need to be further reduced. However, a friend has recently convinced me to embrace the abbreviation, “After all” she says, “we earned those letters after our name.”

Some scholars earn a C.A., PEng or PhD designation, we at Roll a Mile will be changing our business cards to read: ‘Name, M.S., PwD’ or ‘Name, C.P., PwD’ and will be wearing our PwD designations with honour.

And if we are to be referred to as ‘person with a disability’ then it serves that people lacking a disability be referred to as ‘person without a disability’, or abbreviated, P-wod.

Accessibility and the Education Curriculum

With all businesses in Ontario are now required under the A.O.D.A, (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005) to comply with new accessibility laws, accessibility awareness training is now vital for all trades and disciplines.

When it comes to accessibility and education, the focus to date has been on making teaching and curriculums accessible. This is necessary, and will have far-reaching, favourable benefits as increasing access significantly impacts attainment levels. Education has an important role to play in fostering the kind of change that will result in both the immediate and long-term success of the AODA and accessibility, and as such, we need to reframe the accessibility narrative beyond making the curriculum accessible to explore the importance of including accessibility in the curriculum.

Both Japan and the UK present us with precedence of successful accessibility implementation, where accessibility was not limited to design alone, but strategically implemented in a broad range of curriculums representing future “policy makers, technologists and bureaucrats”.

Educational institutions have an active roll in building toward an accessible Ontario through the inclusion of accessibility awareness curriculums and training. As most barriers to access exist simply as a result of lack of awareness, awareness is key to accessibility. Lack of awareness is exacerbated by attitudinal barriers and misperceptions about the cost of implementation, resulting in barriers to access, inaccessibility, and non-compliance. Expanding awareness about these: issues, obligations, regulations and compliance requirements; barriers to access; the cost-effectiveness of accessibility; and the benefits and opportunities of inclusion will result in improved accessibility and accommodation, barrier removal, and the effective provision of goods or services to persons with disabilities.

The possibilities and opportunities accessibility and inclusion provide are immeasurable, encouraging and enabling participation and integration for all citizens in aspects of all aspects of society including employment, consumerism, and recreation. Accessibility is becoming increasingly important as our population ages and disabilities increase. For businesses, accessibility expands the reach of their product or service to the entire market while improving corporate perception, customer satisfaction and consumer loyalty. And as accessibility benefits all aspects of society, improved accessibility resulting from increased accessibility awareness will benefit all.

Imagine the benefits the following disciplines could gain from a curriculum that includes accessibility awareness training for a better understanding of barriers to access and accessibility;

– architects

- administrators

- security

- designers

- engineers

- healthcare

– web developers

- planners

- business management

- human resources

- marketing

- advertising

- hospitality

- tourism

- recreation

– computer engineering.

- criminal justice

-social services

- info. sciences

To be successful, accessibility awareness curriculums should provide an increased understanding

of disability and barriers to access and develop an appreciation of the benefits of accessibility and inclusion. Outlining obligations, requirements, and purposes of the A.O.D.A., as well as discussing core principles of independence, dignity, integration, and equality of opportunity, addressing the varying barriers for physical, hearing, intellectual, learning, visual and speech disabilities.

In addition, curriculums should address the rationale behind the regulation and compare legislated accessibility to actual accessibility. Providing solutions for accommodation so students can develop techniques, practical strategies and adaptive service skills and attitudes to create appropriate and effective methods of incorporating accessibility and accommodation into specific disciplines and fields of study is imperative.

With the government of Ontario planning toward an accessible Province by 2025, it is only logical to begin accessibility training now.

For more information

Seeing past the shell and through to the soul….

Cranky Old Man

What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you’re looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food .. . … . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . .’I do wish you’d try!’
Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not . . . … lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
Is that what you’re thinking?. .Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse .you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he’ll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me . . to see I don’t mourn.
At Fifty, once more, .. …Babies play ’round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future … . . . . I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . And the love that I’ve known.
I’m now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It’s jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigour, depart.
There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
And I’m loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
Not a cranky old man .
Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. …. . ME!!

Originally by: Phyllis McCormack; Adapted by Dave Griffith

5 Reasons to make your business more accessible (and more profitable)

1 ♦ Expands reach, improves corporate perception, customer satisfaction & consumer loyalty

2 ♦ Canadians with disabilities spend $25 billion / year and consumers seeking accessible environments,  products & services have $2 trillion dollars to spend

3 ♦ Impact of AODA implementation on the retail sector over the next 5 years from $3.8 – 9.6 billion in increased spending

4 ♦ Accessible societies are more innovative, productive, competitive, prosperous and healthy

5 ♦ It’s the law. Compliant businesses avoid fines for non-compliance up to $100 thousand /day

To learn more about the accessibility, visit

Accessibility. That’s how we roll.

Some facts from: The Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) & Adaptive Technology Rescource Centre (ARTC) at OCAD University & The Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity (ICP), June 14, 2010, “Releasing Constraints: Projecting the Economic Impacts of Improved Accessibility in Ontario”. Retrieved April, 2012.

Disabilities Act

My eleven year old step-daughter had to do her current events assignment on a recent item in the newspaper about human rights. So humbled she chose mine. This is what she wrote:

Disabilities Act

My current events article is about the new Disability Act that has new laws that all businesses have to follow by January 1, 2012. These laws are to help make it easier for people with disabilities to access goods and services. There are a lot of reasons why it is good for businesses to do this, not just because it is the law.

The new laws don’t really cost the businesses any money, they just have to make new rules about customer service and teach their employees these rules. This helps make sure everyone who works for them understands what accessibility is, why it is important, and how to help people with disabilities. The new laws also mean businesses have to have rules about letting in service animals, and assistive devices like wheelchairs or scooters.

The connection to the Focus on Faith theme, human rights and responsibilities is that all people deserve equal opportunities and access to goods and services and that they can do this while being independent and keeping their dignity. This means that people with disabilities don’t have to ask for help or rely on someone else for help. Ways businesses can do this are to teach their employees to understand sign-language, or to use a pen and paper to talk to people who are deaf. It could mean having a Braille or large print menus for someone who is blind or has trouble seeing.

The new laws make a lot of sense. They help people with disabilities to get goods and services. The new laws were made to help make sure people with disabilities have dignity and independence. They also help businesses to make more money. If more customers can buy their products, the business will make more money. And if their customers have good experiences with employees and accessibility, they will come back again, and spend more money. The new laws in the Disability Act will help people with disabilities and businesses.

Piper J., 11 yrs.

Letter to the Editor

A win and a win

Dear Editor:

Re: Preposterous Law

There is a focus on cost and inconvenience of accessibility, when the cost for most to comply is negligible, establishing customer service policies and training staff.

The banking industry spent billions reinforcing floors for ATMs and most businesses have retrofit to accommodate technological advancements. Business is not static and change is often required to remain competitive. With one in seven Canadians having a disability, spending upwards of $25 billion dollars a year, why wouldn’t businesses want to be accessible to their entire market?  Plus, accessibility improves corporate perception, customer satisfaction and consumer loyalty. Win, win.

As the recent letter demonstrates, there is an obvious need for increased awareness. As with all movements of social change, we not only have to overcome barriers, but ignorance and resistance. As a person with a disability, I understand most barriers to access exist simply as a lack of awareness, not an act of malice.

Training staff in accessibility awareness provides adaptive service skills to improve interactions. All staff don’t have to know sign-language, but front-end staff knowing simple signs like “thank-you” can be beneficial.

Training won’t significantly impact the bottom line, but improved communication creating increased and repeat sales will.

The laws were not designed to inconvenience or bankrupt businesses. Restaurants spend thousands a year on crayons to entertain children, yet independence and dignity can be preserved for a few dollars for Braille and large-print menus so patrons need not be read to like a child. And it’s not just about shopping.

Frequently, I have been prevented from performing my job and earning a living, and others have been critically injured, stuck or stranded as a result of inaccessibility.

I am appreciative of people who offer their assistance, but I really don’t want help, just access so I can do it myself. But I am appreciative of any act of courtesy, disability or not.
Donna Jack,

Owner, Roll a Mile


in response to:

‘Preposterous’ law

Dear Editor:

I am not disabled, but I have travelled many places with a baby stroller on my own. I know it is frustrating when the handicap buttons on doors don’t work, or worse, aren’t even there. I know it is difficult when there is no ramp. However, I have never assumed that any business was discriminating against me or my children.

The Disabilities Act, which forces businesses to prepare to deal with all types of disabled customers, is preposterous. The problem is not that we lack laws to help those in need. The problem is our society is increasingly amoral. It used to be most people would rush to the aid of a mom struggling with a baby carriage, a blind man crossing the street, or a wheelchair-bound woman trying to reach something from the shelf in a store. And it used to be that those in need would graciously accept the help.

No one would cry, “Discrimination” because everyone knew there wasn’t any. Real discrimination is a sign in the window that reads, “No colored allowed” or “Public swimming pool: Whites only.”

It is impossible to accommodate every situation. Should grocery stores have shelves no taller than four feet so someone in a wheelchair or scooter can reach all the items? Should all businesses have someone on site who is trained in sign language? Should every restaurant offer menus in braille?

Legislating morality rarely works. Common sense, humility and kindness should suffice in all situations.
Andrea Black, SALEM