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Defining Disability Today

  • Published: 2009-01-15 (Revised/Updated 2016-04-05) : Kaduwanema John.
  • Synopsis: Two models used for deriving the definition of disability are known as the medical model and the social model.

Main Document

Quote: "The social model specifically looks at the way in which the lives of disabled people are affected by the barriers that society imposes."

How would you define or describe a disability today

Officially, there are many ways of defining what a disability is, although the two most commonly used models used for deriving the definitions are known as the 'medical model' and the 'social model'.

The World Health Organization (WHO) created the medical model in the early 1980's and the definitions within were biased toward the convenience of medical personnel.

The medical model breaks disability down into three key definition areas:

Impairment

Which means the loss or abnormality in structure or function;

Disability

Which refers to the inability to perform an activity within the normal range of a human being because of said impairment;

Handicap

The inability to carry out normal social roles because of an impairment/disability. This model and associated terms are not popular with groups out with the medical profession, especially with the disabled themselves, as these definitions give the impression that disability is allied to ill health and it is the medical profession that hold the answers to solving the problems connected to disability.

This is why the social model is the preferred method of realizing the true effects of a disability or impairment.

The social model specifically looks at the way in which the lives of disabled people are affected by the barriers that society imposes. It is strongly believed that if social and environmental barriers were removed, there would be a more realistic possibility of disabled people living a more equal and normal life alongside non-disabled people. This would create a significant reduction in the true effects and hardships of coping with a disability. The social model effectively emphasizes the social, economical and environmental restrictions rather than the physical or mental restrictions of the impairment. Unfortunately it is discriminatory attitudes and ignorance that continue to cause the real problems in the lives of people living with impairments.

The causes of disabilities are many and varied, and affect people of all cultural and social backgrounds. Living and environmental conditions as well as financial circumstances will all affect how people are able to manage their disabilities. People with more money for instance, are able to pay for home adaptations, mobility products and additional care if it is required, whereas people on lower incomes are not able to do the same.

See all The Models of Disability

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