People often think about disability in terms of “What’s wrong with you and how can we fix you?” If you can’t be fixed then you may not be able to take part in activities until a solution can be found to your ‘problem’. This is called the Medical Model of Disability.
Disabled people’s organisations think about disability in a different way. A person has an impairment or long-term health condition that affects how they carry out tasks in daily life. They have the right to take part fully in activities along with everyone else but the way that society is organised means that things that can get in the way and prevent them from doing so (what we call barriers). Society can be designed so that it does not disable people. This is called the Social Model of Disability.
“Learning about the social model, and coming away from the blame culture of the medical model helped me to access the world more confidently. Being a wheelchair user and having an impairment isn’t my ‘fault’ – we should all be actively working to make the world more accessible.”
– Imogen, WECIL client
If you ask “What can be done to remove barriers which prevent people from taking part in everyday life?” you are using Social Model thinking and being more inclusive.
The Medical Model says that the person’s physical ‘disability’ is stopping them from being able to walk up the stairs and enter.
The Social Model says that, if a ramp was provided, the person would be able to enter the building and go to the concert along with everyone else. So, it’s actually society that is ‘dis-abling’ that person by not having something in place that would enable them to do that.
The Social Model says that providing the documents in a different way, such as electronically or in a larger font, enables the person to access the information and have an equal opportunity to express their views.
The Social Model says that putting reasonable adjustments in place, such as a flexible working pattern, will enable the person to carry out the role and contribute their skills whilst at the same time managing their condition.
You’ll notice we use the term ‘disabled person’ instead of ‘person with disabilities’. This is because we are thinking of a person being ‘disabled’ by society, rather than the person’s ‘disabilities’ being the problem.
We do describe disabled people as having impairments. An impairment is defined as long-term limitation of a person’s physical, mental or sensory function.