Defining Disability: From a medical model to a social model of disability

The Medical Model

  • Disability results from an individual person’s physicial or mental limitation.
  • Definition of disability is related to biology and not the social or geographical environments.  Disability is regarded as a defect or sickness.
  • This model places the source of the problem within the person (intrinsic to the individual) = solutions found by focusing on the person.
  • The medical model often refers to a disabled person as a victim:  this can be very patronizing and offensive.

The Social Model

  • The Social Model views disability as a consequence of environmental, social and attitudinal barriers that prevent people with an impairment from a maximum participation in society.
  • This model centers on social barriers that keep persons with a disability from participating actively in all political and social institutions.
  • This model places the source of the problem on society = solutions must focus on social change and not solely on the individual with the disability.
  • This model focuses not only on physical or environmental but also other barriers of a social nature such as prejudice, stereotyping…
  • “Barriers experienced by people with disabilities in society are not necessarily caused by our disabilities, but rather the result of living in a society that is designed by and for non-disabled people”.
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