Models of Disability

Feb 5, 2014 by

Is the Social Model of Disability socially accepted? I don’t think so.

For many years now, thinking has mainly leant towards the Social Model of Disability where it’s not a persons impairment that makes them disabled, but a lack of provision in society and environment that disables them.

People with impairments should have as many life choices as non disabled, but the environment we live, work and play in is not yet being altered enough to make this happen.

  • All shops should have easy access
  • People with visual impairments should have reading facilities to hand
  • Housing should be designed accordingly
  • Pavements and walkways should be reconfigured when updated or repaired
  • Play areas for children should all be as easily accessed for impaired children as for others – without underlining discrimination by creating a separate group of facilities

Wherever we go today the legacy of the Medical Model of Disability is still very strong and much of the population still looks at people with impairments and at what is ‘wrong’ with the person and not what they need. It focusses on the impairment that people believe should be ‘cured’ or ‘managed’ by medical treatment. The irony, of course, is that people with impairments get categorised under the banner of health whereas the vast majority of disabled people are perfectly healthy. It is just that we focus on the differences and are not creating an environment suitable enough to allow us to recognise their equality.


I remember the children’s story ‘Winnie the Witch’ by Valerie Thomas in which Winnie lived in a black house with her black cat Wilber. Winnie can see Wilber when he has his green eyes open but when he shuts them accidents happen, such as Winnie tripping over him and falling down the stairs. Winnie decides to solve the problem by changing Wilbers colour. First she turns him green, but he went outside and disappeared in the grass, then Winnie made him multi-coloured but he was so embarrassed that he hid up a tree where even the birds laughed at him. Finally Winnie decides that it would be best to turn Wilber back to his usual black and make her house brightly coloured instead so that she could always see him.

Change the environment to suit the need, not the the person to suit the environment.

I just wish life was as simple and straight forward as that sometimes and that our planners, our architects, our designers of the environment as well as shops and work places, schools and playgrounds would all hurry up and get the message.


See also Protecting Disabled Children

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  1. MillyMO

    I was involved with an award-winning project with Leonard Cheshire Disability – In Touch – which aimed to raise awareness of the needs of young disabled people around their sexual health and relationships. The models of disability are clearly crucial in this context and, as part of that project, I produced a presentation, with notes, about the social and medical models that can be freely downloaded from this link. a (just scroll down to the downloads section at the bottom of the page)
    It is based on a presentation created by a young man with cerebral palsy who gives talks about his own experiences as a young disabled man. He gave permission for his work to be used for this purpose.
    I hope it will be of use to anyone wanting to know more about the impact of models of disability.

    • Hi Milly, really interesting about your presentation, I shall definitely have a look.
      I’m always looking for information and trying to keep up to date with disability matters.

      Have you had a look at my podcasts? It would be lovely to hear your comments on that too.

      What is your involvement with Leonard Cheshire Disability – In Touch? I would be interested to know more, as I’m sure many readers would be too.

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