Models of Disability

Prejudice is a far greater problem than impairment, discrimination is a far greater obstacle than any disability” – Paul K. Longmore.

Just as there are many different definitions of disability there are also different models of disability. Put in the simplest terms these can be summarised as two main approaches: the individual approach which sees the person as having a problem; and the social which sees society as having the problem not being able to accommodate all people.

The four main models of disability can be defined as: the charity model; the medical model; the social model and the human rights model. The first three focus on the source of the problem, whilst the last focuses on finding solutions and creating an enabling environment for all.

The charity model focuses on the individual and tends to view people with disabilities as victims, or objects of pity, their impairment being their main identifier. They are seen as recipients and beneficiaries of services. This approach sees disabled people as passive, tragic or suffering and requiring care. It assumes that it is the community and society’s responsibility to arrange all services for these vulnerable people.

The medical model also focuses on the individual and sees disability as a health condition, an impairment located in the individual. It assumes that by addressing the medical ailment this will resolve the problem. In this approach a person with disability is primarily defined as a patient, in terms of their diagnosis requiring medical intervention. Disability is seen as a disease or defect that is at odds with the norm and that needs to be fixed or cured.

The social model developed as a reaction against the individualistic approaches of the charitable and medical models. It focuses on society and considers that the problem lies with society, that due to barriers be they social, institutional, economic or political people with disabilities are excluded. This approach focuses on reforming society, removing barriers to participation, raising awareness and changing attitudes, practice and policies.

The rights based model is based on the social model and shares the same premise that it is society that needs to change. This approach focuses on equity and rights and looks to include all people equally within society: women and men, girls and boys regardless of background or any type of characteristic. It is founded on the principle that human rights for all human beings is an inalienable right and that all rights are applicable and indivisible. It takes the CRPD as its main reference point and prioritises ensuring that duty bearers at all levels meet their responsibilities. This approach sees people with disabilities as the central actors in their own lives as decision makers, citizens and rights holders. As with the social model, it seeks to transform unjust systems and practice.

Knowledge is power!

Subscribe now and get instant access to our entire library and all future updates!

Send Us A Message

Quick Contact

Quick Contact