Towards a Social Model of Disability
Most of us are familiar with the idea of disability as deficiency, as something that ought to be fixed or cured, or prosthetically improved. Though medical intervention can be a factor in a person’s path to success what we are forgetting when we ascribe to this perspective is that more often than not if we make a change in the environment, the attitude, the systems and practices in society a person with an impairment may not even be disabled.
If we design environments to include people with impairments from the outset then we can eradicate disabling situations. Disability Studies calls this the Social Model of Disability, in which we locate disability in the environment and promote the transformation of society so that inclusion becomes our goal.
Comparing the Medical and Social Model
|Medical Model of Disability||Social/Interactional Model|
|Disability is a deficiency or abnormality||Disability is a difference|
|Being disabled is negative||Being disabled, in itself, is neutral|
|Disability resides in the individual||
Disability derives from interaction between individual and society
|The remedy for disability-related problems is cure or normalization of the individual||The remedy for disability-related problems is a change in the interaction between the individual and society|
|The agent of remedy is the professional who affects the arrangements between the individual and society||The agent of remedy can be the individual, an advocate, or anyone who affects the arrangements between the individual and society.|
|Source: Carol J. Gill, Chicago Institute of Disability Research|
How to move forward
This applies not only to visible disabilities and physical environments but to invisible impairments and campus environments. So instead of thinking about individual access problems that people face we begin to think about the barriers that there are in the classroom, in residence or as students receive services. We can think about the ways in which we can reduce barriers to what we are providing. A few examples are listed below.
- Print disabilities like dyslexia, vision impairment and rheumatoid arthritis all benefit from digitized texts/accessible on-line texts that can be manipulated with adaptive technologies that read aloud to the student and enable students with mobility and coordination difficulties to carry their texts on a USB instead of in a backpack.
- Attention difficulties like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, some mental health conditions, the effects of medication or chronic pain all benefit from a classroom where teaching is differentiated during the class and notes are made available. Recording lectures allows these students to return to sections of the class that they missed. Finding information in multiple formats (website, in person, by email, on the phone) all these students to pick their best strategy for communication.
- The need for extended time to manage meetings or communications or exams faced by students with ADHD, Learning Disabilities, students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Mental Health conditions, coordination and mobility impairments can be managed by not imposing limits and expectations on students and making the experience inclusive instead of exclusionary.
The following video is a short but powerful description of the difference between "impairment" and "Disability" through the lens of the social model.
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