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Disability Awareness in Action
Resource Kit No. 3
Published by © Disability Awareness in Action, All rights reserved
Stage One, Coming Together
1. What is Disability?
All over the world, disabled people are among the poorest of the poor, living
lives of disadvantage and deprivation. Why? There are two common explanations
The Social Model: Disability as Social Oppression
The disability movement believes that there are economic and social barriers which prevent people with impairments from participating fully in society and that these barriers are so widespread that we are prevented from ensuring a reasonable quality of life for ourselves.
This explanation is known as the social model of disability because it shifts the focus away from individuals with impairments towards society's disabling environments and barriers of attitude. The social model was developed by members of the international disability movement and is now accepted by an increasing number of non-disabled academics and professionals as well.
The Medical Model: Disability as a Personal Tragedy
Another explanation of disability is that impairment (loss of limb, organ or function) has such traumatic physical and psychological effects on a person that they cannot ensure a reasonable quality of life for themselves by their own efforts. In other words, we are disabled as a result of our individual physical, intellectual or sensory limitations.
The medical model assumes that it is up to the individual, with the help of rehabilitation, to adapt themselves to society; to learn to fit in and to be as "normal" as possible. This model of disability has been rejected by organisations of disabled people and is now generally recognised by academics and professionals as well to be an inadequate basis for understanding disability.
Using the Social Model to Define Disability and Discrimination
When we redefine disability from our own direct experience, three things become clear.
Transport, Education, Employment, Housing, RecreationEach community is encouraged to assess its level of accessibility, to raise public awareness of barriers to full participation and to take action to remove those barriers.