Sunday | December 12, 2021
The Medical Model vs The Social Model of disability
When discussing disabilities, two standard models come to mind when attempting to understand different conditions: the Social Model and the Medical Model of Disability.
While both the medical and social models of disability have a long history of understanding disabilities in society, each model has a unique perspective on the disability experience.
What is the Medical Model of Disability?
The medical model of disability sees an individual’s disability as the result of a biological or genetic condition and treats disabilities with medication or therapy to lessen the severity and impact on the individual’s daily life.
As a result, the responsibility to deal with the barriers in society is the individual’s responsibility. One of the downsides of the medical model of disability is that it often fails to give individuals with disabilities the freedom to be independent and do things on their own.
What is the Social Model of Disability?
The social model of disability points to the environment and how people are treated as the cause of disability. Rather than any sort of biological or genetic condition, the responsibility to adapt to the individual’s needs belongs to society.
Sometimes, a person can’t receive treatment for their disability. Still, they may adapt to live comfortably within their surroundings if proper accommodations are in place.
For example, someone who uses a wheelchair can enjoy a more inclusive environment if buildings and areas in the city have ramps and elevators to allow them to access public spaces, and a blind person can benefit by having one of those buttons that talk telling them to wait for the lights to change before crossing a street.
The social model of disability states that society’s negative attitudes and structures toward disabled individuals prevent them from participating in the same activities as non-disabled individuals.
There are three ways you can use the social model of disability in your daily life:
1. To Advocate for Yourself
People with disabilities face problems when trying to access public transportation, buildings that do not have wheelchair ramps or lifts, and even the skilled labor job market.
If someone is advocating for themselves, they should always address their biological condition as something that depends on how surrounding factors impact their ability to succeed and live their lives.
2. To Educate Others
People who are not disabled need to be taught how to interact with disabled people. By educating others about the needs of people with disabilities and the reasons for specific accommodations, disabled people can access the same opportunities as everyone else.
For instance, a person with a physical impairment may be unable to use stairs; when people around them acknowledge this fact, it helps that person feel comfortable.
However, this does not mean a person should ask whether or not they need to be in a wheelchair. Instead, a person should ask if they need help getting to the next building floor. This allows both parties to understand and provide a better platform for communication.
3. When Interacting with People who have Disabilities
When communicating with people who have disabilities, it is best to focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities.
An example of a question you should avoid asking someone who uses a wheelchair is, “What’s wrong with you?” or “Why are you in that chair?” Instead, it would be better to start by introducing yourself and talking about things the two of you have in common — like your jobs or favorite sports teams.
Social Model vs Medical Model: An Example
As an example of the differences between these two models, let’s think about the disability experience through the eyes of someone with Cerebral Palsy.
A person with Cerebral Palsy may be told that the condition can be treated with physical therapy and medication to make the situation more manageable. However, they may also be told that the underlying condition is likely permanent and unlikely to get better over time.
Someone with Cerebral Palsy may seem to have always been this way. But, if you use the social model perspective, you could say that they may have had the condition since birth but were unaware of its presence because the condition was not detected earlier in their daily lives until they interacted more with their environment or fail to reach some developmental goals.
Someone with Cerebral Palsy would be seen by a social model thinker as having an impairment. However, the person could still lead a fulfilling life if proper accommodations are put in place.
Why Does Knowing The Difference Between These Models Matter?
If you’re a person with a disability, it’s essential to know how society perceives you. However, you also need to realize that your life will never be the same as someone without a disability.
People without disabilities should keep in mind their language because it can make people with disabilities feel devalued or disrespected.
The medical model of disability describes a disabled person as someone who needs help to overcome a physical shortcoming. However, sometimes someone without a disability might use it to express their own experiences, which can be hurtful to those who don’t view themselves in the same way.
Some ways of providing an all-inclusive environment for people with disabilities include:
- Avoiding references to someone as “confined” or “bound.”
- Deliberately providing the material, they can read in alternative formats (e.g., large print, Braille).
- Avoiding “well-meaning” comments such as: “I know how you feel.”
The most important thing is to remember that the way you view a person’s disability will likely be different from how they personally identify with it. Giving them the space and freedom to define what it means to them, rather than trying to provide your own personal definition is the best way to approach interactions with disabled people.
The social model of disability encourages society to view disabled individuals as competent people facing some kind of challenge. Therefore, by providing them with adequate support and assistance, you can help to make their lives more fulfilling and enjoyable.
What Can you do to better accommodate people with disabilities?
In fact, there are many ways in which individuals without disabilities can better accommodate those with disabilities. For example, those without disabilities can provide ramps and other accommodations at local events and institutions (e.g., wheelchair seating for live performances).
Use accessible transportation options (e.g., public transit equipped with appropriate ramps and space for wheelchairs/scooters) and create accessible websites, applications and tools.
One way to make life better for those with disabilities is simply by treating them the same as you would any other individual and giving them equal opportunities, treatment, and resources within your home and community. By doing so, you aren’t only helping to make their lives better, but also you will be promoting a more positive view of disability as a whole.
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