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Home What Really Disables People? The Social Model of Disability

What Really Disables People? The Social Model of Disability

Yesterday’s Thinking – The Medical Model

For a long time, people’s thinking about disability was dominated by medical opinions. Doctors took the view that individuals were born with, or developed, conditions which could be medically diagnosed. Those individuals were regarded as disabled because of what is then called their handicap or disability– what’s ‘wrong with them’.

Under the medical model, people become ‘the handicapped’ or ‘people with disabilities’ or ‘differently-abled’. These terms all underline that the person’s disability is something they have which is a problem for them – a problem to be solved with medicines and aids.

Today’s Thinking – The Social Model

For the last 20 years or so, Britain and most European countries have been following the social model of disability. The social model points out that our whole society is constructed for people without physical, sensory, cognitive or learning impairments. It is the barriers placed in the path of people with impairments which really disable them, not the impairment they have.

The classic example of the social model is a wheelchair-user at the foot of a flight of steps. The medical model said that the person is handicapped by their inability to walk up the steps. The social model says that the problem is the steps – the lack of a ramp is what disables the person, not the fact they are a wheelchair-user.

The three main social barriers which disable people with impairments are:

Physical barriers – such as steps, lack of signers, no audio loop or EasyRead documents
Organisational barriers – such as working methods which make it hard or impossible for disabled people to apply or join in
Attitudinal barriers – such as making assumptions about people and their abilities, aspirations and hopes.
BuDS’ aim, and the aim of all social model organisations, is to remove barriers so that people with impairments are not disabled.

New Thinking – New Language

Using old language about disability is as offensive as old racist language. If you use this old offensive language about disability, you are making some very negative statements about you and your organisation.

To help people use the right language, BuDS has produced Talking about Disability – A Style Guide Inspired by 2012, a guide to social model language and terms. Download a free copy by clicking the link or calling us on 01494 568 864.

Download link: https://buds.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Talking-about-Disability-A-Style-Guide-Inspired-by-2012.pdf