Activity 15: Navigate and Experience a Health Environment with a Visual Impairment



With an aging population, disability is widespread. Those with a disability experience physical and social barriers when completing everyday tasks. These barriers are only magnified when placed in an unfamiliar health setting. This activity will allow participants to better understand the physical and social barriers experienced by those with a disability.


You will be simulating visual impairment and attending a "doctor’s appointment" in an unfamiliar environment. You do not know how to navigate through the healthcare setting or if there will be any disability resources to assist you. Navigate through the healthcare setting of your choice and take note of the infrastructure, accessibility, and resources available.


-       Students will be able to evaluate the quality and breadth of disability support within a healthcare setting (accessibility, visually-impaired support, etc.)

-       Students will gain a better understanding of the requirements and struggles experienced by those with a disability while in a healthcare environment.


Healthcare setting of your choice. A hospital is recommended, but many healthcare settings will be appropriate and beneficial (clinic, nursing home, etc.)

Recommended Preparatory Reading:

Cupples MJ, Hart PM, Johnston A, Jackson A (2012) Improving healthcare access for people with visual impairment and blindness. British Medical Journal 344 (7842): 42-46.

Chau, N. (2007) Reviewed Work: More than ramps. A guide to improving healthcare quality and access for people with disabilities by L I Lezzoni, B L O'Day. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 61 (4): 367.

Frost KL, Bertocci G, Stillman MD, Smalley M, Williams S. (2007). Accessibility of outpatient healthcare providers for wheelchair users: Pilot study. Journal of Rehabilitation and Research Development 52 (6): 653-662.


Variable amount of time. It is recommended that the experience take a minimum of 30-minutes to 60-minutes.

Appropriate for:

-       Advanced Undergraduate Students

-       Pre-medical Undergraduate Students

-       Graduate Students in Health Professions

Activity Description:

You will be simulating visual impairment and attempting to navigate the hospital as if you were a patient getting to an appointment.

1.     Locate a local healthcare setting you would like to complete your experience. A hospital should be first priority, but you will have a rewarding experience at other health settings as well.

2.  There are many disabilities that people struggle with, but for this assignment you will be simulating visual impairment.

     - Visual impairments, such as cataracts, are something that many (mostly older) people struggle with. Cataracts make it extremely hard to see, therefore making it a struggle to complete daily tasks. Even something as simple as going to a doctor's appointment can be treacherous for people with visual disabilities. In order to simulate a disability such as cataracts, you will need to get any pair of glasses and rub vaseline on the inside of one lens. This will make it very hard to see out of the eye with "cataracts." Try to navigate through the healthcare setting to some of the suggested locations listed below as best as you can.

          -Information Desk




          -Any other area you wish to navigate to

3.     Travel to your site and complete the experience.

4.     During your experience, attempt to be independent and try to blend in with the rest of the community around you. Do not take notes or break character to legitimize the experience for you.

5.     Complete your post-experience field notes and reflection. Your notes will have three components.

      a.     Quantification: Take note of the number of disability-friendly areas.

           i.     Were these easily accessible and convenient to use?

           ii.     How many individuals did you see using these resources?

      b.     Narrative: Describe your experiences from start to finish. Take note of your feelings, how others interacted (if at all) with you, and whether you received beneficial help.

      c.     Reflection: Reflect on your overall experience by writing a brief essay.

            i.     Did your experience change the way you view disability?

            ii.     Do you think this exercise is ethical? 

            iii.     How does this experience relate to your future career path?

            vi.     Do you think the environmental barriers experienced by the disabled impacts their care? How so?

Author: Taylor Rawlings and Austin VonAxelson