The social model of disability

The social model of disability says that people are disabled by the barriers they face in society and not by their disability or impairment. If we removed these barriers, it would create a more equal society where disabled people can live independently and have more control over their lives.

Why is the social model needed?

Disabled people developed the social model in reaction to the more commonly used medical model of disability, which defines people as disabled by their impairments or differences.

The medical model of disability looks at what is ‘wrong’ with an individual or how an impairment should be ‘fixed’ in order to better fit in with society. This model ultimately leads to the individual losing choices and control and restricts them from living as they choose.

What are the barriers?

The barriers faced by disabled people are wide ranging and include cultural and economic barriers, as well as negative attitudes which often exclude disabled people from wider society. These can include:

  • Inaccessible homes
  • People’s negative attitudes or prejudice towards disabled people
  • Inaccessible educational systems or work environments
  • Negative cultural representation eg within film, television, media
  • Inaccessible public buildings
  • Lack of financial independence

Impact of using the social model

Using the social model of disability as a theory changes attitudes towards what disabled people can expect and achieve and how organisations and services should be structured.

The theory actively seeks to create a more inclusive society where everyone can experience the benefits of leading an independent life.