The Social Model of Disability Explained
Born in the early 1970’s the disabled people’s movement has slowly begun to have an impact on today’s society and with it has come a new language and an increased understanding of the impacts of disability. For many, the concept of the Social Model of Disability has led to a new understanding and has changed their lives. LCIL was founded on this Ethos and guiding philosophy.
Whilst many view the model as the need to replace steps for ramps and to increase the width or doorways, the model provides far more. For many people, the model provides a new and empowering way to live their lives, the opportunity to have real choice and control and to be involved in everyday society.
Whilst this page serves as an introduction to the concept, attending a training event is far more powerful and effective (see training information) way of understanding this approach to life.
The social model of disability enables disabled people to look at themselves in a more positive way, which increases their self-esteem and independence.
This view runs contrary to the way in which many disabled people feel, especially if they have recently become disabled or have not had the opportunity to consider another alternative view. It is not uncommon for disabled people to feel a loss for all the things they would like to do, but cannot; a loss of goals and dreams that seem unobtainable. Many disabled people feel they are a burden on family and friends and a problem for doctors who cannot cure them. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear people say that they would rather die than be disabled, but this view is usually based on prejudice and ignorance.
This traditional view of disability is known as the “Medical Model of Disability” or “Individual Model of Disability”, because society views disabled people by their medical problems. It is critical to note this is not just a reflection of the medical world, but of how decisions are made within Social Care, Education, Employment and many other areas of our lives. Until recently, the only way to view disabled people was to see their medical condition as their problem, something they will have to make the best of and accept that there are many things they cannot do.
The Social Model of disability starts from a different perspective. It acknowledges that an individual has a medical condition (referred to as an impairment) for which medical intervention may at times be needed. However, the perspective moves on to recognise that every disabled person is a human being and as such is entitled to be treated equally. In doing this, the approach is to identify and to challenge those aspects of society that erect barriers preventing disabled people from participating and restricts their opportunities.
Defining the barriers?
Heavy doors, steps and inaccessible public transport are just a few examples of the everyday examples that can impact on the lives of disabled people. Such barriers impact on others too. In order to achieve equality of access and involvement for all, an understanding of specific barriers has emerged. These barriers are broadly defined as Information, Environment, Organisational Structures and Attitude.
The Information Barriers – Commonly seen as the need to provide information in a format that meets the needs of the individual e.g. large print, plain English, sign language, pictorial information and other community languages. In reality, this barrier extends to the way that decisions are made and the reliability of the information used should reflect the needs of disabled people.
The Environmental Barriers - Not just removing steps and replacing them with ramps, but ensuring that the ramps are built appropriately and meet current and evolving guidelines. Ensuring that materials that are used in construction take account of sensory needs, with good use of colour contrasts and highlighting. That materials used to provide information in terms of signage and its accessibility to all users and the need to take advantage of new technology that increases overall access and awareness.
The Organisational Structure Barriers – Refers to the ways in which an organisation operates, how it sets out to meet the needs of disabled people by anticipating demand and training staff to meet the needs of its customer. An approach that sees disabled people as customers in their own right and reflects this in the way that services are provided. Positive structures ensure that disabled people have equal access to the process of decision making and the ability and opportunity to influence decisions.
Attitudinal Barriers – The way that an individual operates and how they allow their own prejudices or the prejudice of their organisations to impact negatively on the rights of disabled people. Changing this barrier can often require a cultural change within an organisations and needs not only to be led from the top, but to be reinforced throughout the organisation. Such change becomes more effective when the organisation sets out to employ disabled people at all levels within its organisation and ensures that the work they undertake is valued and appropriately supported. Attitudinal barriers can be related to institutional discrimination as the impact of attitudes dictates the structure of organisations, the design of environments and the process of using and creating information.
This approach has now been considered as applicable to all areas of equality.
Social Model and Independent Living
In developing the Social Model of Disability, consideration was given to the hierarchy of needs that impacted on an individual. Initially these were described as the “Seven Needs” and were first developed by Derbyshire Coalition of Disabled People. The seven needs are defined below:
Information: Disabled people require information on what is available to assist with independent living.
Peer Support: Disabled People need the support of other disabled people to discuss and draw strength from our shared experiences.
Housing: Disabled People need accessible housing. By this we mean accommodation that meets our access requirements and is close to family, friends and local facilities so we can live independently.
Equipment: Many disabled people need information and resources to obtain practical equipment to assist them in living independently.
Personal Assistants: This is the one to one support that some disabled people need to live in their own home and be part of the community.
Transport: This may mean improved public transport in terms of physical access, information about the routes, more assistance for passengers who are unsure about using public transport.
Access: The most obvious examples are about physical access such as dropped kerbs, tactile paving, provision of induction loops etc. However, access goes much further than this because there are barriers created by systems, practices and attitudes that prevent disabled people from participating.
More recently, a wider understanding of the impact of different issues has been developed and these are now seen as the need for:
- Full Access to our environment
- A fully accessible Transport system
- Technical Aids – Equipment
- Accessible/adapted Housing
- Personal Assistance
- Inclusive Education and Training
- An adequate Income
- Equal opportunities for Employment
- Appropriate and accessible Information
- Advocacy (towards self-advocacy)
- Appropriate and Accessible Heath Care Provision
LCIL is committed to ensure that all of our services and projects are developed in line with these 12 needs.