The models of disability

There are two main models of disability that are used as a framework to explain and understand disability; the medical model and the social model.


The Medical Model

Suggests that there is something wrong with disabled people that can only be fixed by advances in medical knowledge and expertise. It states that disability is part of the individual’s own body and this disability will cause a reduction in an individual’s quality of life which in turn will cause disadvantage to the individual. The medial model puts specific emphasis on curing or ‘normalizing’ disabled people through medical procedures or treatments and puts medical professionals at the forefront of understanding disability.

The medical model of disability can negatively impact on the way disabled people view themselves. Many disabled people can internalise this negative message that all disabled people’s problems stem from not having ‘normal’ bodies.

Disabled people can also be led to believe that their impairments automatically prevent them from taking part in social activities.

This internalised oppression can make disabled people less likely to challenge their exclusion from mainstream society.


The Social Model

In opposition to the medical model is the social model. The social model is not based in medicines but was developed by disabled people themselves. This model suggests that people with impairments are disabled by the fact that they are excluded from society due to physical, organisational and attitudinal barriers e.g if you use a wheelchair and there is no ramp or lift access it is the building that has disadvantaged you. These barriers prevent disabled people from gaining equal access to information, education, employment, public transport, housing and social/recreational opportunities.

By providing satisfactory ‘reasonable adjustments’, barriers can be overcome and this can have a positive impact on people’s lives.


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