Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Communities!

The Importance of Changing our Mindset from the Medical Model to the Social Model of Disability

By Mike, 9 April, 2022

How do we view  People with disabilities?  The answer to this question varies depending on several things.  If you are not a person with a disability and you do not usually spend time with people with disabilities, then when you do encounter someone with a disability, you might be just starting to think about these things.  The problem is that society has already conditioned us in our thinking in many different ways.  Let's think about a few of them.

TV and movies might be one source of our conditioning.  Think about how often a person with a disability is either shown as someone to be pitied and in need of charity.  In contrast, sometimes the person with a disability is portrayed as a super inspiration.  This is something that is referred to as Inspiration Porn.   It objectifies people with disabilities for the benefit of the able-bodied.  Inspiration porn is a form of ableism.

This same influence happens either with the presence or absence of people with disabilities in advertising.  Many advertisers do not want to associate their products or services with the idea of disability.  Consequently, people with disabilities are underrepresented in most advertising.  This very fact helps promote the idea that people without disabilities are somehow more normal or even superior.  However, if you do come across some advertising that features someone with a disability the look carefully to see how they are being portrayed.  Are they the object of pity and charity or are they in the category of "Inspiration Porn"?

Neither of these is a fair or accurate view of people with disabilities.  Sadly, the consequence is that many people have views of people with disabilities based on mis-information reinforced through conditioning regularly.  To make matters even worse, there is another way of thinking that is unfortunately still prevalent  in society which is what is known as the "Medical Model of Disability"

The Medical Model views disability as one or more defects within the individual.  In order to have any quality of life, these defects must be fixed or corrected. The problems are all viewed as being tied to the individual and their condition.  But as we all know, there are many physical conditions that can not be fixed or corrected.  So that leaves pity and charity as the final outcome in this model.

The Social Model takes a different approach.   It looks at barriers within our communities and our society as the problems that need to be fixed instead.  For example, the reason a person using a wheelchair can't get into a building is not because their legs don't work or they can't walk.  No!  The reason really is that there are steps that prevent the wheelchair from being able to get into the building.  Another example might be, the reason a Blind person can't fill out the forms at the Doctor's Office is not because they can't see.  No!  The real reason is because the forms are not accessible.  Some Doctor's Offices are starting to put their forms on-line and making them accessible by following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) international standards.  This allows a Blind person to use Screen Reading software on their own computers or even smart phones to be able to access the forms and fill them our privately and independently.

Clearly the Medical Model of Disability  is extremely limited in providing solutions.  Whereas, the Social Model has virtually unlimited ways to remove barriers.  The key is to focus on removing these barriers as we strive to build Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Communities.

Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building a Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Community!