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Social Model of Disability

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Disability refers to the social effects of physical or mental impairment. This definition, known as the 'social model' of disability, makes a clear distinction between the impairment itself (such as a medical condition that makes a person unable to walk) and the disabling effects of society in relation to that impairment. In simple terms, it is not the inability to walk that prevents a person entering a building unaided but the existence of stairs that are inaccessible to a wheelchair-user. In other words, 'disability' is socially constructed. The 'social model' is often contrasted with the 'medical model' which sees 'disability' as synonymous with 'impairment.'

The social model of disability recognises that some people have physical or psychological anomalies which may affect the means by which they function. However, by this model, those people are disabled primarily due to the barriers that exist in a society that does not take account of their needs. These barriers exist in the physical, organisational, and personal aspects of society. For instance, stairs without lifts, information not available in large print, or negative societal attitudes toward certain types of people could all be considered disabling. The social model generally views disabled people as having the same desires, needs, and aspirations of non-disabled people. By this model, disabled people should be allowed to enjoy the same freedoms and choices as those who are not considered disabled, and should be allowed equal rights and responsibility in making life decisions. Disability is not seen as something invoking pity or in need of a cure, and it may be viewed as a positive asset. Equality for disabled people is often seen in the same light as equality for other socially marginalised groups.

In the United Kingdom, the Disability Discrimination Act defines disability using the medical model - disabled people are defined as people with certain conditions, or certain limitations on their ability to carry out ‘normal day-to-day activities’. But the requirement of employers and service providers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their policies or practices, or physical aspects of their premises, follows the social model. By making adjustments, employers and service providers are removing the barriers that disable - according to the social model, they are effectively removing the disability.

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. Certain specific conditions are excluded, including alcoholism and transsexualism.

The medical model of disability is a model by which disability is the result of a physical condition, is intrinsic to the individual (it is part of that individuals own body), may reduce the individuals quality of life, and causes clear disadvantages to the individual. By this model, a compassionate or just society should invest resources to attempt to cure disabilities medically or to improve functioning and make disabled persons more "normal", and the medical profession has significant responsibility and potential for helping disabled people.

The medical model of disability is a model by which disability is the result of a physical condition, is intrinsic to the individual (it is part of that individuals own body), may reduce the individuals quality of life, and causes clear disadvantages to the individual. By this model, a compassionate or just society should invest resources to attempt to cure disabilities medically or to improve functioning and make disabled persons more "normal", and the medical profession has significant responsibility and potential for helping disabled people.

The medical model of disability is often cited by disability rights groups when evaluating the costs and benefits of invasive or traumatic medical procedures, prosthetics, "cures", and medical tests such as genetic screening or preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Often, a medical model of disability is used to justify large investment in these procedures, technologies and research, when adaptation of the disabled person's environment would be cheaper and more attainable. Some disability rights groups see the medical model of disability as a civil rights issue, and criticise charitable or medical initiatives that use it in their portrayal of disabled people, because it promotes a negative, dis empowered image of people with disabilities, rather than casting disability as a political, social and environmental problem.


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