The Conill Institute for Chronic Illness  |  215.746.7267  | [email protected]

The Disability Experience

ONE IN THREE OF US – 100 Million people in the US – have one or more chronic conditions.

ONE IN FOUR OF US – 25% of Americans – are unpaid caregivers (family, friends, neighbors…) and provide first line of support

ONE IN FIVE OF US – 20% of the population – has some level of disability.

The Disability Experience is the flagship program created by the Conill Institute for Chronic Illness. Through a didactic, interactive and highly experiential curriculum, participants learn about living with disability. They face the dynamics and mechanics of a disability from the perspective of the person needing care, the “care recipient” or the individual providing direct support and assistance, the “care giver”. Participants increase their understanding and awareness of the challenges of disability for individuals, families, organizations and society.

Unlike other programs traditionally labeled as “sensitivity training,” the Institute program is unique in the following ways. It focuses not only on the experience of the person with a disability but, in equal measure, on the experience of the caregiver. It provides specific instructions on tasks to be accomplished during a designated period of time in an uncontrolled, real-world setting. And, program facilitators are carefully chosen to assure they have had personal experiences in the disabled role or in the role of care partner to someone with a disability.

The program can be tailored for different audiences. Similarly, the duration and scope can be adjusted accordingly. Audiences have included health care professionals (in training or in practice), students of business and social policy, elementary and middle school students, advocacy groups and corporations.

Drawing upon the Disability Experience program, presentations have been created in an attempt to summarize some of the most important issues affecting people living with chronic illness and/or physical disability. Using carefully researched information including actual examples from individuals facing these challenges, specific educational objectives are achieved. There is also ample opportunity for audience facilitator interaction,

See links below for small sampling of previous presentations:


“This was an amazing experience and really opened my eyes and my mind to something I knew very little about.”

“Excellent program! Provided real-world experience of challenges and barriers faced by people who live with disability.”

“Identified myths and biases encountered by people with physical disabilities.”

“Strengths of the workshop included the experiential aspect as well as knowledge of the speakers.”


“The experience was truly an eye opening one. I think it will impact, not only my own day to day life in feeling more eager to offer simple acts of kindness for those with disabilities, but also to help inform my patients who are about to enter wheelchairs about some of the things they might encounter and help them find a way that is best for them for coping and moving forward.”

“My wheel chair experience gave me an interesting new perspective on how hard it is to perform daily activities that I take for granted. I gained new insight into what it feels like to be dependent on others to perform these activities and function in the world.”

“Being able to experience what life is like as a caregiver gave me a new appreciation for people that are familial caregivers to patients with major disabilities. Being a caregiver is a 24 hour job that takes extreme patience and dedication. …It is important to help caregivers take care of their family members with major disabilities.”

“I found myself becoming preoccupied with each individual encounter I made with other people. I thought a lot about the encounter when someone else waited for me to get through a door or elevator, when they would look at me and I felt judged, and when I felt an “inconvenience” to others by taking up too much of the sidewalk or going too slowly.”

“The chair sets you apart from others beyond mere appearance, or so you imagine. The chair acts as a badge indicating membership – forced membership – in a group whose lives are, by necessity, very different from the norm. Without consenting, you are revealing to others a great deal about yourself. And all this happens calmly and politely, with a whimper. You are, somehow, simultaneously more noticed and more invisible at the same time.”


Dear Dr. Conill…
“We really appreciate your coming to our school and just sharing your wonderful life story. We thank you for telling and explaining to us that people with disabilities are the same as us. We thank you for expanding our minds to what everyone with disabilities feel like and that they have lives too”.

“I thought that it was really brave of you to come and talk to us about something that made your life a lot more difficult. I think that that might have been pretty difficult for me. Also thank you for being very honest with us. I had asked if it was easy to do a daily life, and you had answered truthfully that it was not. Thank you so much for coming”.

“I learned to treat people with disabilities with respect.”

“I realize that I shouldn’t take walking or running for granted because I could lose that ability any time. I also learned that you shouldn’t park in the handicapped parking spaces because someone may really need to park there”.

 The Disability Experience