Yesterday Clemson University took part in a special project that encourages administrators and faculty members to live a day in the life of a person with a disability to raise awareness and hopefully shape future policy. The program, called Walk & Roll in My Shoes, pairs able-bodied administrators and faculty members with students who have various disabilities.
Half the day faculty members spend time living with their student partner’s disability such as using a power chair or wheelchair and the two pair up for lunch to discuss their experience. Though many students and faculty support the program there are a few outspoken members of the Clemson faculty who claim the program only serves to reinforce stereotypes and pity towards people with disabilities.
One problem some faculty members have is that the disabled students are referred to as ‘shadows’ because of their background role. “We need to be more visible and ‘shadow’ implies a nonperson or nonentity,” Jillian Weise told Inside Higher Ed. Weise is an assistant professor of English at Clemson and also walks with the aid of a prosthetic leg. “At this moment we need to see persons with disabilities being successful and in positions of power,” she went on to say.
Despite the concerns of some administrators and faculty members, the event continues due to the fact that the overwhelming response from participating students and administrators has been positive. Dan Hoffman, Clemson’s director of paring and transportation told Inside Higher Ed that participating in the event last year was an “eye-opening event” that has helped him to give serious thought about how to make the campus more accessible for people with disabilities. “You take for granted what a lot of people go through,” Hoffman said. “Even though things are supposed to be on an equal plane, they’re not”.
As we wrote about in previous blogs, we can identify with the unforeseen obstacles faced daily by disabled people and applaud organizations who try to build additional understanding. No awareness program is ever going to be 100% endorsed by the people who are supposed to benefit from it. Those who raise concerns about the Walk & Roll in My Shoes program may have legitimate gripes, but unlike other universities that have no programs to encourage understanding towards the difficulties faced by those living with disabilities, at least Clemson is trying.