Models of Disability
There are two models of disability one from medical professionals and one from disabled people.
Under the Medical Model, disabled people are defined by their illness or medical condition. They are disempowered: medical diagnoses are used to regulate and control access to social benefits, housing, education, leisure and employment.
The Medical Model promotes the view of a disabled person as dependent and needing to be cured or cared for, and it justifies the way in which disabled people have been systematically excluded from society. The disabled person is the problem, not society. Control resides firmly with professionals; choices for the individual are limited to the options provided and approved by the ‘helping’ expert.
The Medical Model is sometimes known as the ‘individual model’ because it promotes the notion that it is the individual disabled person who must adapt to the way in which society is constructed and organised.
The Medical Model is vigorously rejected by organisations of disabled people, but it still pervades many attitudes towards disabled people.
The Social Model has been developed by disabled people in response to the Medical Model and the impact it has had on their lives.
Under the Social Model, disability is caused by the society in which we live and is not the ‘fault’ of an individual disabled person, or an inevitable consequence of their limitations. Disability is the product of the physical, organisational and attitudinal barriers present within society, which lead to discrimination. The removal of discrimination requires a change of approach and thinking in the way in which society is organised.
The Social Model takes account of disabled people as part of our economic, environmental and cultural society. The barriers that prevent any individual playing a part in society are the problem, not the individual. Barriers still exist in education, information and communication systems, working environments, health and social support services, transport, housing, public buildings and amenities. The devaluing of disabled people through negative images in the media – films, television and newspapers – also acts as a barrier.
The Social Model has been developed with the aim of removing barriers so that disabled people have the same opportunity as everyone else to determine their own life styles.
A simple example is that of a wheelchair user. He would not be disabled if he lived in an environment without his impairment can use public transport and gain full access to buildings and their facilities in the same way that someone without his impairment would do.
The Social Model of disability has fundamentally changed the way in which disability is regarded and has had a major impact on anti-discriminatory legislation.
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