This post concerns a rejection of the Medical Model of Disability, and the subsequent formation of the Social Model of Disability.
Social Model of Disability
“Disabled people want the same chances and opportunities in life as non-disabled people: to gain an education, and employment, to live in affordable accessible housing, to have relationships, to be able to make their own decisions about the issues that affect their lives.” (Swain et al., 2003).
Disabled people and their rejection of the medical model approach to how they were considered and treated led, in 1976, to the production of a document by the Union of Physically Impaired against Segregation (UPIAS) called Fundamental Principles of Disability. They were formed due to the initiative of Paul Hunt who wrote a letter to The Guardian in 1972 calling for a group to be formed who put forward the views of disabled people themselves (Shakespeare, 2006) and this is the main argument for disabled people rejecting medical model thinking.
UPIAS’ way of thinking was that to be able to locate and remove the disabling aspect of society, the link between impairment and disability needed to be broken. They redefined impairment as “lacking all or part of a limb, or having a defective limb, organ or mechanism of the body,” and disability as “the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organisation which takes no or little account of people who have physical impairments and thus excludes them from participation in the mainstream of social activities.” (UPIAS cited in Swain et al., 2003)
Disabled people stopped viewing their disability as the caused of problems faced by them, but rather the way “society responded to us as an oppressed minority,” (Oliver, 2004) which became known as the social model way of thinking. UPIAS argued that although having a disability was a personal tragedy it was society, and in particular society that had fully embraced the medical model way of thinking about disability that actually prevented a person with a disability from functioning fully (Finkelsein, 2004)
The breaking of the link between impairment and disability now meant moving away from handing disabled people’s lives over to professionals to decide where they were allowed to go to school, what support they got, where they lived and whether they were allowed to work; and changing social barriers to allow disabled people the same rights as non-disabled people in accessing schools and colleges, going out to work and being allowed to work in a suitable working environment, to access leisure and entertainment facilities, use all forms of transport, and control their own personal, family and social lives.
- Finkelstein, V. (2004). Representing disability. In: J. Swain, S. French, C. Barnes and C. Thomas, (eds). Disabling Barriers – Enabling Environments. London: SAGE, pp. 13-20
- Oliver, M. (2004). If I had a hammer: the social model in action. In: J. Swain, S. French, C. Barnes and C. Thomas, (eds). Disabling Barriers – Enabling Environments. London: SAGE, pp. 7-12
- Shakespeare, T. (2006). Looking Back, Moving Forward. [Online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/columnists/tom/250906_index.shtml [Accessed 12.12.06]
- Swain, J., French, S. and Cameron, C. (2003). Controversial Issues in a Disabling Society. Buckingham: OU Press