Whose fault is it that disabled young people are often excluded from society?

Who is responsible for ensuring that everyone is included?

What stops people from being a part of society: Their impairments (e.g hearing or mobility impairments) or the barriers that society has put in place (e.g. steps or inaccessible information)?

There are four main ways to look at disability: The medical model, the social model, the charitable model and the human rights model.

The Medical Model

Medical Model of Disability focuses on what is wrong with the individual

Medical model of disability. Source: Democracy Disability and Society Group

The medical model of disability says that disabled people are disabled by something that is wrong with their body or mind. Under the medical model, disabled people are in need of a cure to make them like everybody else. This model sees the impairment as a problem to be fixed.

The medical model can be useful when treating the symptoms of a disabled person’s impairments. A doctor might see a disease that they can cure or treat. However, it focuses on the impairments and diagnoses of an individual, and often misses what the person needs more broadly as a member of society. Viewing disability through only this model can take away parts of a disabled person's independence and choice.

Historically, people thought that disabled people were unable to manage their own affairs so they were routinely placed in Places that kept disabled people locked up or stuck in, usually to care for them but with old fashioned ideas.institutions, which eroded their rights. In the 1970s, disabled people fought against the medical model. They wanted to leave institutions and be a part of society. When this did happen, disabled people found that the world was full of steps and other barriers, which prevented them from participating fully. In response to this, disability activists developed the social model of disability.

The Social Model

The social model focuses on how society prevents people from participating

Social model of disability. Source: Democracy Disability and Society Group

The social model is an updated way of considering disability. It says that disabled people aren’t disabled by their impairments, but by the world around them. It focuses on barriers that prevent people with disability from participating in society. That people are disabled by these barriers.

Under this model, disabled people still have impairments they may seek treatment for by doctors and other medical practitioners. But they are disabled by barriers in society. Rather than saying that the problem lies with the individual, the social model argues that the problem is that society is not accessible or inclusive. Under the social model, society needs to be more accessible and inclusive to ensure that disabled people can participate just like everyone else, and that goes beyond medicine or healthcare.

The Charitable Model

Above: Talk by disability advocate Stella Young that touches on the impact of the charitable model. Source: Ted Talks (includes a transcript)

The charitable or Helping those in need with money or aid.charity model sees disabled people as in need of help and unable to do things themselves, and that charitable people should step in provide that support on disabled people’s behalf.

This model centres non-disabled people as “doing a good thing” in helping disabled people, and can undermine The freedom to do what you want for yourself.autonomy and disability pride. Disability pride can mean being proud of who you are and embracing your disabled identity. It can also mean feeling confident and not hiding your disability.

More modern models instead focus on enabling disabled people to be independent and access reasonable accommodations or adjustment. They try to make sure disabled people have agency or autonomy in their lives, and how they are perceived. Modern models recognise the Lack of fairness or justice in how you are treated.inequities within society and supporting disabled young people whilst working towards removing those inequities.

This is not to say that non-disabled people and charity organisations can't provide valuable support and services. This model is rooted in older societal responses to disability, when often the only support available was through charitable organisations. Australia has changed a lot since those early times, and there are now much diverse and developed forms of support. However, the charity mindset can still create When the way someone thinks or acts stops a disabled person doing what they want or need.attitudinal barriers.

The Human Rights Model

Above: Video that explains all four models. Source: Disability Advocacy Resource Unit

There is a lot of useful ideas in the social model of disability, and it acts as a really good reminder of the role we can all play in removing ableist and inaccessible barriers. The human rights model acknowledges the impact of impairment in the lives of disabled people, and says they require more than just removing barriers.

Disability is a natural part of human diversity that should be valued. Society has a responsibility to support the impacts of impairments. Disabled people's rights and choices need to be respected. And it is everyone’s role to ensure those rights are upheld.

The human rights model reminds us that disabled people deserve their rights. Achieving the full realisation of our human rights means society provides access to a whole range of social, political and environmental support. It also focusses on the pride, community and identity that come from being a disabled person. By understanding that disability is natural and valid it can help grow pride in that experience.

In some ways it combines the realities of having a disability or impairment and being disabled by an inaccessible society. It views disabled people's access to society through the fulfillment of their human rights, using a human rights framework to bring about positive change for and by disabled people and with those that support them.

Four lenses

These models are ways to try and understand our experiences of the world. They are all imperfect, and each only goes so far in explaining complex ideas. All of them will impact disabled people’s live at some point. The charitable and medical model of disability are rooted in older ideas. They focus on diagnosis and the idea that disabled people needed to be ‘cured’ or ‘helped’. The social and human rights models of disability are more progressive ways of looking at disability. They are useful tools to advocate for positive change and equality for disabled people. But there is Subtle or small differences in meaning.nuance in this, particularly how charity and medicine are part of societal structures and supporting disability.

We strongly encourage you to use the social and human rights models of disability as the basis of your interactions with disabled young people.

Reflection questions

Does this way of looking at disability resonate with you?

How have you seen these different models play out in your work?

Look into the disability activism movement to learn more about the interesting and important history of disability rights.

Watch this video made by Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John:

Read more

People With Disability Australia's guide to the social model of disability.

YDAS' Map Your Future site explains what disability pride is.

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