Different ‘models’ of disability

There are broadly two ways to define disability, which are called the ‘medical’ and ‘social’ models respectively.

The Medical Model of Disability

The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as where; “…a person has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

This definition sees disability as a ‘problem’ that belongs to the disabled person, and not as an issue of concern to anyone else. For example, if somebody who uses a wheelchair is unable to get into a building because of some steps, the medical model sees this as because of the wheelchair rather than the steps. In the medical model, in many cases disability is seen as being ‘curable’ by medical intervention.

The Social Model of Disability

However, FRESh believes that disability is created by wider society disabling people by thinking in ways and  designing things that only meet the needs of nondisabled people. This is known as the ‘social model’ of disability, and recognises that society can do a great deal to reduce and eventually remove disabling barriers. The social model sees this as the responsibility of society, rather than of disabled people.

The social model of disability suggests that we will achieve equality for disabled
people not by medical interventions or charity but by:

  • creating buildings that are accessible
  • producing information in accessible formats
  • challenging stereotypes and assumptions
  • ending segregated services
  • supporting disabled people to do things for themselves
  • ensuring that disabled people have full civil rights

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