I posted on Facebook earlier this afternoon that I’d given someone a spur of the moment elevator pitch length explanation of the social and medical models of disability and they’d understood it without my needing to clarify any further. This was, and is, a win. Especially because I really believe they actually understood it and didn’t just say so to shut me up. Then one of my friends posted that she doesn’t speak disability.
And apparently I have blog entries on here dating back to 2006 but have never defined the models. Despite having both a social and a medical model category on here.
So here goes. This will be quick and dirty but hopefully makes sense.
The medical model of disability states that impairment and disability are solely caused by medical conditions and are not influenced by anything elses. This, I believe, is much more commonly used in America. According to the medical model I am a person with a disability and am disabled by my cerebral palsy as a result of which I use a wheelchair.
The social model of disability states that it is the barriers that society puts into place and the attitudes of those around me which disable me. It acknowledges the fact that yes, I have cerebral palsy and use a wheelchair but that if I’m in a fully accessible and supportive environment I can and do access things the same as everyone else. This model would say that I am a disabled person and my disability is caused by the failings of society to provide equal and fair access that meets my needs.
There are other models of disability such as the charity model (sometimes known as the tragedy model) which depicts disabled people as a victim of circumstances beyond their control for which they need to be pitied.
Further confusion can be and is caused by the language of disability. It’s also sometimes the cause of debate or even argument between disabled people. Persons with disabilities (often shortened to PWD) is a medical model term as I said above but it’s also used by some people who prefer it as it’s person first language and shows they are more than their condition. Others (myself included) prefer to use disabled people regardless of which model they subscribe to because it’s identity first language and shows what they identify as.
And then there’s the argument about whether or not the a in disabled and disability etc should be capitalised (i.e. disAbled, disAbility) to bring the focus onto our abilities and what we can so rather than what we can’t. Personally I hate that.
Finally there’s the people who say you shouldn’t use the term able bodied because we’re all able but in different ways. The term nondisabled is the most commonly used and it’s the one I like but it’s difficult for people to understand. And to be honest no other minority describes the people outside of it by what they’re not so I don’t know if it will ever fully replace able bodied. Another term that is sometimes used is temporarily able-bodied or TAB (some people use currently able bodied, I don’t mostly because I heard of TAB first and the acronym for currently able bodied would be the same as where I volunteer and so confusing). This refers to the fact that statistically speaking most people will become disabled as some point in their lives whether due to illness, accident or simply aging.
My own journey with disability theory and the language of disability is ongoing and ever evolving. If you go right back to the beginning of this blog you’ll see the term PWD used a lot but it’s a term I no longer use. I’ve used TAB a lot in the past too but I’m not sure I’ve done so for years. Neither term feels relevant to who I am and where I am now.