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Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living

Social Model of Disability

The Social Model and Medical Model are frameworks for looking at disability

The Medical Model of Disability views disability as a ‘problem’ that belongs to the disabled individual. For example, if a wheelchair user is unable to get into a building because of some steps, the Medical Model would suggest that this is because of the wheelchair, rather than the steps.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.

In contrast, the Social Model of Disability, in the above example would see the steps as the barrier and would say that the individual is not disabled if a lift or ramp were installed. This model draws on the idea that it is society that disables people through designing everything to meet the needs of the majority of people who are not disabled. There is a recognition within the Social Model that there is a great deal that society can do to reduce, and ultimately remove, some of these disabling barriers, and that this task is the responsibility of society, rather than the disabled person.

The Social Model of Disability starts from a different perspective from the Medical Model. 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.