The social model of disability states that people are more disabled by the world in which they live rather than by the ability of their physical bodies. The social model differs from the medical model in that negative attitudes and barriers by society, whether on purpose or accidental, actually result in a disabling lifestyle. Prescribers to the medical model of disability believe that the body must be fixed in order to conform to “normal” values and lifestyles of the majority, able-bodied world. In other words, the medical model clearly defines disability as something innate to the ability of our physical bodies while the social model defines disability as resulting from societal hurdles.
So what do these two differing models of disability mean to you and why should you be aware of the difference? Many of us, whether we are disabled or not, have probably mostly experienced the medical model of disability. Even if you have never been considered disabled, the medical model can be experienced all around us. The idea that an impairment needs to be fixed or changed is seen in mainstream media with the prevalence of plastic surgery permeating through our celebrity society. The medical model can also be experienced when we walk into a book store and find little to no options in braille for people with visual impairments or we run up a flight of stairs to enter a building with little to no thought about why a ramp is not available for wheelchair users to enter.
As you can see, the social model holds society accountable for changing the way we all look at disability, which allows us to realize that differently-abled individuals do not necessarily have to change themselves in order to conform to society, but rather society should look at what everyone in our communities needs in order to be successful. This only increases independence and gives control back to the individual over the choices they make in their own lives. It also allows everyone, regardless of ability, to fully participate in society and stop internalizing negative messages about physical impairments and differences.
Below are just a few examples of the social model of disability in practice:
- Providing large print newspapers, magazines, books and media outlets for aging individuals and those unable to read normal-sized print.
- Making closed captioning programming available for those with challenged hearing.
- Building a ramp as an alternative to stairs to provide entrance and exit to buildings for wheelchair users.
- Installing blinking signals at stop lights and cross walks for people who are hard of hearing.
In summary, the social model of disability has become a great equalizer, promoting inclusion, participation, even reducing discrimination and improving access for everyone. It spreads the message loud and clear that society needs to (and can!) change, not disabled people.
How do you think the social model of disability has evened out the playing field for people of all abilities? Share in the comments!