Whose fault is it that young disabled 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 can’t walk or can’t hear) or the barriers that society has put in place (e.g. steps or inaccessible information)?

There are two main lenses to look at disability: the medical model and the social 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 broken. They 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.

The medical model focuses on the impairments and diagnoses of an individual rather than what the person needs. It leads to people losing independence. Historically, people thought that people with disability were unable to manage their own affairs so they were routinely placed in 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 people with disability 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.

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 people with disability can participate just like everyone else.

Two lenses

The medical model and social model are two main lenses of looking at disability. The medical model of disability was used many years ago. It focuses on the diagnosis and the idea that disabled people needed to be ‘cured’. The social model of disability is a more progressive way of looking at disability. It is a useful tool to advocate for positive change and equality for people with disability. We strongly encourage you to use the social model of disability as the basis of your interactions with young people with disability.

Reflection questions

Does this way of looking at disability resonate with you?

How does this model relate to human rights?

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




Next: Inclusion and the Law

Previous: Values and Ideas - Inclusion