Learning by feeling - Hortitherapy training activity

To work in the garden with disabled people requires some competences and knowledge that can be experienced and acquired by carrying out some exercises. Here is a suggestion for a short training in horticultural therapy.

“Learning by feeling”


Make the people feel the situation (however partially) of being disabled and be aware of the position the accompanying helper.


Materials and examples of disability to create:

Wheelchair (could be rented from a chemist, can be lent by a NGO of disabled)

Crutches with legs bound together

Mask  to blind the person: (security mask completely blackened with tape)

Impaired vision: glasses with black tape in the middle to fake peripheral vision, or with a hole at the centre to fake tubular vision (can be done with 3D glasses from movies, to further impair the vision, but be careful it can give headache… that is part of the game too)

Deaf: earplugs plus security headset


The visit should take around 30 to 40 minutes.

Step 1: Create pairs of “disabled people/helpers”.

Step 2: Prepare the people before the visit to pay attention to what/how they feel as a disabled person or as a helper.

Step 3: visit: The visit can be adapted but not too much, the point is to make people feel how difficult and strange it can be to have a “normal” visit when you are disabled. Halfway through the visit the people exchange roles.

Step 4: Personal reflexion time, then at the end of the visit they take 5 to 10 minutes to write privately all they have felt and noted about the way the visit went.

Step 5: Common debriefing:  You can take at least 30 minutes to share all the feelings and talk about the necessity of empathy, the problems you must give attention to (security, access, how not to “invade” personal autonomy…) when you are a “helper”.


Evaluation is included in the activity with time for reflection and debriefing.

Give attention to the feelings of the trainees and work on it, give suggestions on how the accompanying people can behave in a given situation.


This visit is helpful, even if the participants later have to deal with people with mental health issues, because lots of people with mental health issues also have physical disabilities and the main point is to make the trainees experience how alien people with disabilities can feel in a normal world. This feeling can then be extrapolated to people with mental health issues, who can also experience it, maybe in a different way.

With the group of trainees devise the session that will take place later (for example the next day or week) with a visiting group of people with disabilities. With the group you have to choose the activity, and prepare the timing, the material, the planning of the visit.

By organizing a visit the trainees realise the importance of preparation, time planning, evaluation of their preparation and activity and position as leader / accompanying helper.  All this can be used to propose a really “therapeutic” activity with all due security and comfort and not just the physical activity. (Therapeutic activity in the sense of producing real change in well-being, and in accessible challenges for the people)