In Another’s Shoes

On December 12th, 2018, students from CTE’s Criminal Justice and Health Occupations participated in two activities aimed at raising awareness about dementia, Alzheimer’s and learning impairments. These activities were hosted by Sandi Erickson and Jessica Heska of Compassus Hospice. The day quickly turned into a laughter- and frustration-filled challenge as the students struggled to complete various tasks given by their guests.

The first activity the students participated in was an online simulation of what it’s like to have a learning impairment. A series of math, writing, reading, organization and attention-based games were presented to the students. The objective of each game was simple, but the simulation made it as if they had trouble with each of these subjects. The math game had the student match different coins to add up to the goal amount. The twist was that you had no idea what each coin was worth.

In the reading game, the objective was to switch letters around that weren’t supposed to be where they were placed. The writing game instructed the students to type out everything they saw on screen; however, sometimes different letters would be switched, or it might not type anything at all. The organization game asked students to catch certain shapes falling from the ceiling, in a basket. Yet again, the twist was that the instructor would progressively get faster and faster, making it harder to complete the task.

The final game, based on attention, had a voiceover that would tell you where to put certain squares in certain places, but background noise and distractions at increasing volume in comparison to the speaker produced a very frustrating result. Keep in mind that every single one of these games were timed, making the pressure even greater, and the artificial impairments all the more frustrating.

This first activity was a real eye-opener for many students who’ve never been exposed to these issues. For other students, the games were just downright anger-inducing.

After the first activity, students were escorted to a different room to participate in activity number two. The activity was supposed to be an accurate simulation of what it’s like to have dementia. The hosts gave students items that would recreate what it’s like to have dementia. These items included shoe soles, sunglasses, huge gloves and headphones. Once they put on all of these, the students were put in a dim room filled with activities. The host would give each student multiple tasks to complete and sent them off to attempt them. Students were not allowed to hear what they were supposed to do a second time and had to figure it out themselves. Most of the time, this would result in students doing things they weren’t supposed to or not doing anything at all.

It was a great experience for the students like Criminal Justice’s Sebastian Landenberger, who described it as “very frustrating, because I couldn’t do simple things that I normally do on a daily basis.” Learning was a big part of this activity. “I learned that people struggle with these things on a daily basis,” Sebastian added. “I could barely handle it for one hour.”

The point of this whole ordeal was primarily to bring awareness to these issues. Many people have zero knowledge about these very real problems. It is a very hard job to try and educate so many people about such a topic, but it is well worth the outcome. All students were grateful for this experience and the people who make these events happen. At the end of the day, our CTE students now know about these mental health impairments.