In Their Shoes: A Walk through the World of Disabilities - Spring 2002 Ivy Leaf Magazine

Ivy Leaf - Spring 2002

In Their Shoes

A Walk through the World of Disabilities


Have you ever wondered what it's truly like to live with a disability, or how to effectively work and communicate with someone who has a disability? Faculty and staff throughout the Penn State system will now have the opportunity to walk "in the shoes" of someone who's disabled, thanks to a new interactive web-based training and awareness program.

Entitled "In Their Shoes," the interactive format utilizes graphics, sound, and web technology to provide a glimpse of what it's really like to have functional limitations that substantially alter a major life activity, such as learning, seeing, hearing, or functioning socially. The web-based program is 15-20 minutes in length with a pre- and post-test and a built in evaluation component.

"This project is unique in that it is the first of its kind to provide a convenient web-based tool designed to enlighten professionals in higher education about what our students actually experience as they live with a disability," said Dr. Joy Himmel, director of Penn State Altoona's Health and Wellness Center and developer of the project. "The content of 'In Their Shoes' is geared to the academic community by including actual experiences and responses from students as they've maneuvered through the higher education maze."

A 20-minute theatre presentation has also been used to market the Web site in a way that should build enthusiasm and a curious interest to complete the Web site training. Written by playwright Scott W. Kirk of the Pittsburgh-based Saltworks Theatre Company, the play was developed following meetings with students with disabilities on campus, interviewing and working with project staff, and researching issues related to disabilities.

The play focuses on the issue of attitudes and myths related to working with students with disabilities. By watching the production, the audience has the opportunity to literally see things through the eyes of those with disabilities and hopefully be able to get a glimpse of what it might be like to walk "in the shoes" of the disabled.

The proposal to develop the project was initially submitted to fulfill a need for a convenient and dynamic medium in which to provide faculty and staff with a combination of accurate information, increased awareness, and heightened sensitivity regarding working with individuals with disabilities.

"Other avenues of information-sharing including hand-books, information sessions, and other written materials that were currently available for educational purposes are often poorly received due to busy schedules," said Robert Lynch, grant coordinator for the project. "The interactive, graphic Web site and on-site presentation through theatre, was a method we believed would attract attention in a way that had not been previously attempted."

Funding for the "In Their Shoes" project came from the Penn State Altoona Division of Student Affairs and the Penn State Equal Opportunity Planning Committee. An initial proposal for $14,050 was submitted in fall 2000 for implementation during the academic year 2001-2002. The Equal Opportunity Planning Committee (EOPC) provides funding for proposals that focus on diversity issues at Penn State. All proposals accepted must coordinate with the goals and objectives of the Penn State Framework to Foster Diversity.

The "In Their Shoes" project was marketed and implemented through disability counselors at all Penn State locations this Spring. The project was introduced through a CD-ROM and brochure which provided information about the project and enables participants to easily access the website at http://www.altoona.psu.edu/intheirshoes.