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Models of Disablity

Updated on July 18, 2013
The medical model of disability believes that all decisions and control should be made by doctors rather than the individuals concerned.
The medical model of disability believes that all decisions and control should be made by doctors rather than the individuals concerned. | Source

A model is a representation of a part of reality. Many models of one aspect can exist at a given time and will have their own set of beliefs, theories and followers.

Models of disability are a framework to help others understand how people with impairments experience disabilities and all concerns aspects of daily life. Models can be used to provide a reference for society in general and also to help in forming laws and regulations that may have an impact on disabled people and their lives.

There are several models of disability but the two most frequently used are known as the medical model of disability and the social model of disability.

The medical model of disability

The medical model of disability sees the disabled person as the problem in a situation. It believes that they should be the ones to adapt to their environment and that they should not expect society to change or make allowances for them and their difficulties. For example if a wheelchair user cannot enter a building due to stairs at the entrance, the medical model of disability sees the wheelchair as being the cause of the problem rather than the stairs.

This model focuses on limitations and weakness rather than a person’s strengths and defines a person by their illness, condition or impairment and as being dependant and a burden. Many people believe that the medical model is degrading to people with disabilities, fails to see them as people with their own beliefs, thoughts and feelings and leads to low self-esteem, underdeveloped skills, poor education and low employment rates among people who have disabilities. The medical model of disability gives little choice to the person in question and believes that all decisions and control should be made by doctors and other professionals.

This model is rejected by many people with disabilities, their families and supporters as it is regarded as being negative and disempowering.

Accessible play equipments makes it possible for children who use wheelchairs or who have other mobility difficulties to play and enjoy the same experiences as able bodied children.
Accessible play equipments makes it possible for children who use wheelchairs or who have other mobility difficulties to play and enjoy the same experiences as able bodied children. | Source

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The social model of disability

In contrast to the medical model of disability, the social model of disability sees the person’s disability or condition as the problem. Followers of this model believe that the barriers that medical conditions and differences create for a person should be lessened by changing the way in which society views disabilities and people who are disabled and by making society more assessable: for example by providing ramps, disabled parking spaces, lifts, accessible transport and more education for people about disabilities and how they impact on people’s everyday lives.

The phrase ‘social model of disability’ was first used by Mike Oliver in 1983. He hoped that it would be a starting point in changing how society viewed disability. This model states that a person’s medical conditions or differences create impairments but that these are not necessarily disabling. The real disability is cause by living in a society that fails to take into account these individual differences and find ways to be more inclusive of all people.

Supporters of the social model of disability aim to get all people on an equal footing in life regardless of medical conditions and disabilities. The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was created in 1995 and gives people with disabilities equal rights to those without. An example of how this has helped is that it requires all employers and service providers to make reasonable adjustments to their policies, practice and physical aspects of their buildings to aid people with disabilities such as adding ramps and lifts.

The social model of disability states that any attempt to fix or cure a disabled person, especially if it is against their will is discriminatory and prejudiced. It gives power to people regardless of their individual circumstances and impairments and addresses how much potential they have to offer society when given fair and equal rights and opportunities.

Modifications to buildings such as ramps can make a huge difference to the lives of people with disabilities.
Modifications to buildings such as ramps can make a huge difference to the lives of people with disabilities. | Source

© 2013 Claire

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