Social vs Medical Model Of Disability

January 10th, 2006

Social vs Medical….

“Disability” can be broken down into a number of broad sub-categories, which include the following:

  • Physical impairments affecting movement, such as post-polio syndrome, spina bifida and cerebral palsy.
  • Sensory impairments, such as visual or hearing impairments.
  • Cognitive impairments such as Autism or Down Syndrome.
  • Psychiatric conditions such as Depression and Schizophrenia.

The Evolution Of A Movement

Historically, disabilities have often been cast in a negative light. An individual thus affected was seen as being a patient subject either to cure or to ongoing medical care. His condition is seen as disabling; the social reactions to it are justified, and the barriers unavoidable. This position is known as the medical model of disability.

Over the past 20 years, a competing view known as the social model of disability has come to the fore. In this model, disability is seen more as a social construction than a medical reality. An individual may be impaired by a condition that requires daily living adaptations, but the bulk of his problem – his disability – can be found in the attitudinal and physical barriers erected by society.Both the medical and social models agree, to a point, that facilities and opportunities should be made as accessible as possible to individuals who require adaptations. Dismantling physical barriers, or setting up adaptations such as wheelchair ramps, is known as “fostering accessibility”.The language and terminology of disabilityLately, the term disability has replaced the older designation handicapped.

While these two designations can be used interchangeably, proponents of the social model of disability have appropriated the latter term to describe those social and economic consequences of the former. An individual with a physical or intellectual disability, then, is said to be “handicapped” by the lowered expectations of society.A person may also be “impaired” either by a correctable condition such as myopia, or by an uncorrectable one such as cerebral palsy. For those with mild conditions, related impairments disappear with the application of corrective devices. More serious impairments call for adaptive equipment.

In the United Kingdom, people within the disability rights movement commonly use the term “Disabled” to denote someone who is “disabled by society’s inability to accommodate all of its inhabitants.”The Person First Movement has added another layer to this discourse by asking that people with disabilities be identified first as individuals. “Person First Language” — referring, for example, to a woman who is blind, rather than to “a blind woman” – is a form of political correctness designed to further the aims of the social model by removing attitudinal barriers.

Some people with disabilities support the Person First Movement, while others do not. People who are Deaf in particular may see themselves as members of a specific community, properly called the Deaf culture, and so will reject efforts designed to distance them from the central fact of their identity.A human rights based approach has been adopted by many organizations of and for disabled people. In 2000, for example, the United Nations Assembly decided to start working on a comprehensive convention for the rights of disabled people.

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