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The Medical and Social Models of disability

There are at least two very different ways to view disability – want to know more?

The Social Model of disability was developed in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s by the emerging Disability Movement, and in turn inspired a number of campaigns for civil rights for disabled people in the 1980s and 1990s. These years of campaigning for civil rights legislation led to the creation of the DDA in 1995, which has implications for arts organisations in the way that they respond to disabled people.

The Medical Model of disability is still the most commonly recognised. It says that what is significant about someone is their medical history, their medical condition, what is wrong with them. The technical description of what is wrong with someone is used to determine: * what they can and cannot do
* what they will continue to be able and unable to do
* what they need

The responsibility for managing that condition and any arising implications rests with the individual themselves. They can gain support from society to do so, but the model creates a culture of charity, since society can choose to support that disabled person or not. Any additional support they do get is provided because they are ‘different’ to the norm.

The Social Model of disability instead distinguishes between someone's impairment, which is their medical condition, and the disabling barriers that they face in trying to participate in the world at large. It places the responsibility for disability on society and the environments it creates, rather than on the disabled people themselves.

A disability, according to this model, is not a medical condition, it is the stigma, oppression and stereotyping a disabled person experiences as other people encounter them, make assumptions about them and refuse to alter their own attitudes and practices to include them in their standard thinking.

These barriers might be the steps into a building, the reliance on reading written communication, or the incorrect assumptions people make about disabled people. The responsibility for removing these barriers lies with the people and organisations that create them, and those who maintain them by not challenging the status quo.

The Disability Discrimination Act supports the idea that it is the duty of society to remove, or avoid, these barriers.

Don't take our word for it - read up on Wikipedia!
Why not take an online quiz to check your understanding of the models?

More information on these models

There are many resources on these models on the internet.

The British Film Institute has one of the most comprehensive descriptions
And here is a quick pictorial representation of the Medical Model...
And here's one of the Social Model...

More models

The Medical and the Social Models are just that - models. They are useful in specific contexts to look at how we choose to see the world. And there are many other ways of looking at disability too.

With a little Googling you might come across the Charity Model, the Affirmative Model, the Human Rights Model and the Cultural Model to name just a few.

Wikipedia lists nine other models!

To check out the list on Wikipedia...
Here is an article on 'The Affirmative Model' of disability