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What Is The Social Model Of Disability

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What Is The Social Model Of Disability

What is the social model of disability? – Scope video

People can be limited physically and mentally. In ways, it has to do with the emotions and the senses. These limitations can be described as disabilities. For example, being discriminated against, is a problem that disabled people often have. There are different explanations behind the difficulties that disabled people face because of their environments. Two of the most common explanations are the medical and social models of disability. The social model of disability was developed by disabled people in response to the medical model of disability. Importantly, not every disabled person wants to use the social model of disability to describe their disability.

Redefining Disability: The Social Vs Medical Model Of Disability

When Carol Gill saw that people with disabilities are seen as “defective” and need to be “fixed or cured,” she knew there was a problem. She wrote an essay about how society views these issues, along with surveying dozens of disabled individuals on their thoughts about themselves and the world around them.

The medical model of disability suggests that people with disabilities are broken and need to be fixed.

Gill believed the overemphasis on this approach has prevented those with disabilities from being able to fully participate in society, which is why she created a new framework called Social Model Theory.

Rights And Government Policies

The disability rights movement aims to secure equal opportunities and equal rights for disabled people. The specific goals and demands of the movement are accessibility and safety in transportation, architecture, and the physical environment equal opportunities in independent living, employment, education, and housing and freedom from abuse, neglect, and violations of patients’ rights. Effective civil rights legislation is sought to secure these opportunities and rights.

The early disability rights movement was dominated by the medical model of disability, where emphasis was placed on curing or treating disabled people so that they would adhere to the social norm, but starting in the 1960s, rights groups began shifting to the social model of disability, where disability is interpreted as an issue of discrimination, thereby paving the way for rights groups to achieve equality through legal means.

Advocacy for disability issues and accessibility in the republics of the former Soviet Union has become more organized and influential in policymaking.

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The Social Model Of Disability

The Social Model of Disability, developed over the last 40 years by Disabled people, is a radically different Model to the Medical and Charitable approach to disability described above. It states that people have impairments but that the oppression, exclusion and discrimination people with impairments face is not an inevitable consequence of having an impairment, but is caused instead by the way society is run and organised.

The Social Model of Disability holds that people with impairments are disabled by the barriers operating in society that exclude and discriminate against them.

Here is a diagram of the Social Model of Disability that shows some of the thinking and assumptions of this Model.

The Social Model not only identifies society as the cause of disability but, equally importantly, it provides a way of explaining how society goes about disabling people with impairments. Sometimes referred to as a barriers-approach, the Social Model provides a route map that identifies both the barriers that disable people with impairments and how these barriers can be removed, minimised or countered by other forms of support.

Key disabling barriers from a Social Model approach include:

Social And Human Rights Models

The Social Model of Disability

Based on a human rights paradigm, these models emphasize that disability-related problems stem from an inaccessible social structure, as opposed to the disability itself. These models focus on environmental and attitudinal barriers that prevent people with disabilities from having equal opportunities in their societies. Many disability rights activists today embrace social and/or human rights models to inform their work.

What it looks like: A person with a disability is able to attend a school, go to work, participate in community activities alongside non-disabled people, perhaps using disability-related accommodations or modifications that make the environment more accessible to them.

Diagram of Social Model of Disability adapted from

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Does The Social Model Of Disability Exclude Medical Treatment

No. The medical model says its my fault I cant climb stairs and I need to be repaired. Or, just shut up and wait quietly for a couple of decades until they figure out how to do that. The social model, on the other hand, asks if theres a different way to achieve that goal and says its probably quicker to get in a lift.

The social model does not say that medical knowledge is useless, but it requires that medical treatment is based on what the patient feels is important for them. This could be pain management, advice on how to stay in the best health or assistance when something flares up.

Medical practice consistent with the social model looks something like this:

  • You dont get a lesser level of medical care as a result of the attitudes of medical professionals towards disabled people.
  • Your other needs are met through reasonable adjustments. For example, large-print leaflets made available at your maternity appointments.
  • A doctor or nurse can give you information on the pros and cons of treatment, but, where possible, you make the decision on what happens to your body without feeling pressured.
  • Medical thinking stops at the doctors door. Medical professionals should not have control over where and how someone lives, who they live with or how they spend their time.
  • Unnecessary or arduous procedures are not pushed on anyone.
  • Your needs and values come first, not a professionals idea of normal.

    Tool For Cultural Analysis

    The social model has become a key tool in the analysis of the cultural representation of disability from literature, to radio, to charity-imagery to cinema. The social model has become the key conceptual analysis in challenging, for examples, stereotypes and archetypes of disabled people by revealing how conventional imagery reinforces the oppression of disabled people. Key theorists include Paul Darke , Lois Keith , Leonard Davis , Jenny Sealey and Mary-Pat O’Malley .

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    The Medical Model Of Disability

    The medical model states that disability is caused by the health condition a person has and the nature of this condition will determine what they can and cant do. The medical model would say that in order for everyone to participate fully in society, everyone would need a non-disabled body and mind. This makes disability the result of the person being different, not of society.

    Disabled People Or People With Disabilities

    The Social Model of Disability

    From a Social Model perspective, the term Disabled people is a political term that people with impairments use to emphasise the social cause and nature of the exclusion and discrimination we face as people with impairments, disabled by society.

    Using the term Disabled people or Disabled person is not a value judgment on what people can or cannot do, but rather a political description of the shared, disabling experience that people with impairments face in society. It is used to bring together a very diverse group of people with impairments to identify the causes of our discrimination and oppression, communicate shared experience and knowledge, and create social change.

    Non-Social Model language/Medical Model language such as a person with disabilities confuses impairment and disability and implies disability is an individual matter something a person has. This is wrong. It is the disabling barriers operating in society that disables us, not our impairments.

    The Social Model of Disability is central to the struggle for inclusion and equality for Disabled people. However, as with any model, there are challenges to the Social Model approach. Two current areas of challenge are:

    • The creation & promotion of a Biopsychosocial Model of Disability
    • Criticism by Disabled people

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    Captioning: An Online Environment Example

    In the online environment videos without captions are a barrier for people:

    • who are Deaf and cannot hear the audio
    • who are hard of hearing and cannot hear some of the content
    • with learning and cognitive disabilities who need to see and hear the content to better understand it

    Under the social model captions are added so that people with disabilities can obtain the audio content. Captioning provides a lifeline by displaying audio content on screen as synchronized text.

    Captioning Outcomes

    Just as in the curb cut/ramp example, accurate captions also have beneficial outcomes for more than people with disabilities. As 3Play Media points out in the article, 80% of People Who Use Closed Captions Are Not Hard of Hearing:

    Viewers who know English as a second language often benefit from closed captions, because it makes it easier to follow along with spoken content that is not as familiar to them. Closed captions help with comprehension: dialogue that is spoken very quickly benefits from captioning, as does dialogue with accents, mumbling, background noise, or complicated/esoteric subject matter. For video that is published online, closed captions increase viewer retention and user engagement, as well as search engine optimization. Captions allow viewers to watch videos in sound-sensitive environments like offices and libraries.

    The Multimedia Hub is available to assist the UMD community in providing captioning. Let’s all do our part to remove disabling barriers.

    Two Models Of Disability

    Whose fault is it that young disabled people are often excluded from society?

    Who is responsible for ensuring that everyone is included?

    What stops people from being a part of society: their impairments or the barriers that society has put in place ?

    There are two main lenses to look at disability: the medical model and the social model.

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    What Is The Medical Model Of Disability

    So you can kind of get an idea of what is the medical model of disability: its the opposite.

    And the way that is looked at the persons disability is causing the barrier. The person, in a way, is causing that problem. That person has the medical condition, but its stopping them from doing things that they want to do. And that medical model mindset also imply that for a person to fully engage in society and to achieve everything that you want, you must have that non-disabled body and mind.

    If you think about it, that then passes the problem on to that disabled person who has a disability and they cant achieve what they want to achieve because of them because of their medical condition, not because of how things are set up any other way.

    Thats not really a good mindset, really. Im trying to work out, unless you know, why is that a good mindset to have? Why is it good to have a medical model of disability in the forefront rather than a social model?

    I strongly believe in a social model, and thats why when I say I am deaf, I am hard of hearing or whatever, I will say I am disabled as well. But from the social model of disability.

    So of course, example of the medical model disabilities are if cinemas, you go to watch a movie, theyre not captioned, well its not the cinemas problem. The problem is the person who came that person cant hear. Therefore that person is the issue.

    The Biopsychosocial Model Of Disability

    Social model and disability Source: Adapted from Yokotani ...

    The Biopsychosocial Model of Disability was championed and developed by the private health insurance sector in America. This Model re-frames disability away from a Social Model understanding back to an individualist, quasi-medical and psychological approach.

    This Model seeks to put the responsibility for Disabled peoples situation back onto the individual Disabled person. For example, the primary cause of unemployment amongst Disabled people, from this view, is not the economic and attitudinal barriers operating in the work place but an individuals attitudes, thinking and behaviour about work, which need moderating and changing. If a Disabled person fails to find work it is primarily, from this Models perspective, a failure of the individual to be sufficiently motivated and flexible to get on their bike and find work.

    This is a dangerous approach, as the answer to disability equality from a Biopsychosocial Model perspective is to strip Disabled people of rights and support , to develop a denial of disability as a social construct, and ultimately to place the blame and responsibility for exclusion, discrimination, poverty and all that flows from this back onto the individual.

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    Removing Barriers In Society

    When barriers are removed, people with disability can be independent and equal in society.

    There are multiple barriers that can make it extremely difficult or even impossible for people with disability to function. Here are the most common barriers.

  • Attitudinal barriers: are created by people who see only disability when associating with people with disabilities in some way. These attitudinal barriers can be witnessed through bullying, discrimination, and fear. These barriers include low expectations of people with disabilities, and these barriers contribute to all other barriers.
  • Environmental barriers: inaccessible environments, natural or built, create disability by creating barriers to inclusion. Examples of architectural or physical barriers include:
  • Sidewalks and doorways that are too narrow for a wheelchair, scooter, or walker.
  • Desks that are too high for a person who is using a wheelchair, or other mobility device.
  • Poor lighting that makes it difficult to see for a person with low vision or a person who lip-reads.
  • Doorknobs that are difficult to grasp for a person with arthritis.
  • Institutional barriers: include many laws, policies, practices, or strategies that discriminate against people with disabilities. Examples of organisational or systemic barriers include:
  • Denying reasonable adjustments to qualified individuals with disabilities, so they can perform the essential functions of the job for which they have applied or have been hired to perform.
  • Mike Oliver: Advocate For The Social Model Of Disability

    In March, one of the strongest advocates of the social model and Britains first Professor of Disability Studies passed away at the age of 74. Mike Oliver, we salute you.

    Re-reading some of Mikes work today, theres a sense of humour in his work, but veering toward dark sarcasm. He is unbowing, irreverent and always mocking with effortless sophistication.

    His words always have a powerful hidden message we are good enough as we are.

    His not-so-hidden message is that the rest of society can either learn to accept us as part of our shared world or get their judging expectations out of our faces.

    Non-disabled researchers whose work had little practical value and failed to take disabled peoples own views or research into consideration were shown little mercy. Instead, honest first-person accounts of his own experiences and those of others were held up as examples of what barriers existed.

    He truly showed what effect these barriers had on disabled people and society as a whole, and how a little creative thinking can go a long way.

    Control is a key theme throughout his work.

    • Does a disabled person make decisions about their own life, health, path or future freely?
    • Do barriers, expectations and media representations get in the way?
    • Are we pushed to behave a certain way?
    • Why do we think the way we do?
    • What could we achieve if we were free of all the ideas that tell us we cant because we do not fit the world?
    • What if the world could fit us?

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    Illness Or Role Rehabilitation

    To some, the ICIDH classification has represented an overmedicalized model of disability in which disablement is seen as located primarily within the individual.52 In the social model of disability, disablement is perceived less as an attribute of a person and more as a set of circumstances, many of which arise from the external environment.53 Handicap is caused by having steps into buildings and not just by difficulty in walking. Within this paradigm, the disabled elderly can be considered as a disadvantaged minority group, an argument that forms a component of a larger thesis concerning the social construction of old age.54 A continuation of this perspective is to discuss disablement in the language of social discrimination and oppression.55 Here, problems are located at the level of an individual but caused through a prevailing unhelpful attitude towards disablement by society as a whole. This underpins arguments for a more inclusive research agenda, which acknowledges more fully that disablement is a personal experience created as much by wider society as by the individual.55 The debate over the relative merits of the different models of disability continues,52,53,55,56 and it is the intention that both models will be encapsulated in the forthcoming revised version of the ICIDH .

    Sally French, John Swain, in, 2013

    Social Construction Of Disability

    The Social Model of Disability – by Toucan Diversity

    The social construction of disability comes from a paradigm of ideas that suggest that society‘s beliefs about a particular community, group or population are grounded in the power structures inherent in a society at any given time. These are often steeped in historical representations of the issue and social expectations surrounding concepts such as disability, thereby enabling a social construct around what society deems disabled and healthy.

    Ideas surrounding disability stem from societal attitudes, often connected to who is deserving or undeserving, and deemed productive to society at any given time. For example, in the medieval period, a person’s moral behavior established disability. Disability was a divine punishment or side effect of a moral failing being physically or biologically different was not enough to be considered disabled. Only during the European Enlightenment did society change its definition of disability to be more related to biology. However, what most Western Europeans considered to be healthy determined the new biological definition of health.

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