Wednesday 10 July 2019

The Medical and Social Models of Disability

The Medical Model of Disability

The medical model of disability holds the view that people are disabled by their impairment (e.g. being a paraplegic or blindness); it looks at what is "wrong" with the person and not what the person needs. 
The medical model traditionally sees that if he impairment or illness/conditions was to be cured disabled people would fit back into society and that society doesn't have to change or accommodate for disabled people.

  • Forexample of a wheelchair user is unable to get into a building because it has steps the problems is seen that it because the person is a wheelchair user, not the fact that there is no ramp or lift.

One of the big flaws with the medical model is the is creates low expectation and leads to disabled people losing their independence, choices and control over their lives.

The medical model doesn't really work for many disabled people as many people's disabilities or chronic illnesses cannot be cured that they will also be 'disabled people'. If they cannot access pubic services, education, places of work and other venues this has a huge impact on their ability to access equality opportunity and it affects their quality of life.

Looking back through history disabled people where sent to special schools or long term residential care facilities which where often very medicalised. This places focus on the person's impairment or disability and how it can be minimised; it doesn't help the become part of society, or for the general public on how to include disabled people.

The Social Model

Many more people and organisations are now using the social model of disability.

(For film transcript of Scope's video click ⇨ here)

The social model of disability was developed by disabled people. It holds the view that individuals are not disabled by their impairment (e.g. being Deaf or having autism) but by society's failure to take a disabled person's individual needs into account, such as when designing a new building and ensuring things like steps free access, signing in alternative formats etc.
"Being Disabled is part of the normal spectrum of human life: society must expect Disabled people to be there and include us." - ALLFIE
The model is focussed around the belief that people are disabled by barriers in society rather than by their health condition/illness.

The social model states that people become disabled because of barriers in society and not by their impairment, disability or health condition.

Barriers could be physical should a building not having a ramp and full wheelchair access, or a service not having a textphone number. Another barrier could be caused by a person's attitude towards difference, such as assuming that a person with a visual impairment cannot do anything for themselves.

Some of the different ways the Social Model see that individuals are disabled by society are:
  • Physical barriers
  • Prejudice
  • Labelling and stereotyping
  • Ignorance
  • Limited financial independence
  • Not having information in alternative formats
The social model helps people to recognise the barriers in society that make life harder for disabled people; removing these barriers creates better equality and offers disabled people more independence, opportunities, choice and control.
"If modern life was set up in a way that was accessible for people with disabilities then they would ne be excluded or restricted. The distinction is made between 'impairments', which are that individual problems which may prevent people from doing something, and 'disability', which is the additional disadvantage vested by society which treats these 'impairments' as abnormal, thus unnecessarily excluding these people from full participation in society." - Mental Health Foundation
The social model of disability works much better for disabled people compared to the medical model as it means that disabled people can have full access to a wide range of facilities including public services like libraries, hospitals, leisure centres, cinemas, retail shops etc, as well as education and work and have just as much equal access and opportunities as non-disabled people and be able to live equal lives.

Examples of the Social Model of Disability in Action:

  • A child with a visual impairment wants to be part of the book club at school. The Social Model's solution would be to make the book available in a format best suited for the child's needs, whether it a be in large print, braille or audio format.
  • A wheelchair user wants to access the public library but there are step into the building and stairs inside. The Social Model would ensure that there is ramp access into the building and inside there are lifts to other floors and that an accessible toilet is available. They would also have a lowered service counter and have staff to assist individuals to reach for items on shelves.
  • A doctors surgery has a new person sign up as a patient; this person is profoundly Deaf and using BSL to communicate. The Social Model would ensure that there is a textphone system installed so the individual can independently make appointments and the GP Practise also ensures that there is a BSL interpreter is available whenever the individual has an appointment. 

Changing Attitudes Towards Disabled People

Negative attitudes towards disabled people which are based on prejudice or stereotyping can stop disabled people from having equal opportunities in life - this is sometimes referred to as 'disabilism'.

Examples of negative attitudes include assuming thoughts that disabled people can't:
  • Be in employment
  • Be in further or higher education
  • Live an independent life
  • Have a family
  • Advocate for themselves
  • Individual can do little for themselves and must have a carer with them at all times