Monthly Archives: July 2017

Medical Model of Disability versus Social Model of Disability

For too long people with disabilities have been treated as second-class citizens. They have repeatedly been bombarded by messages that they their bodies are defective, that they need to be fixed or cured, and that their inability to participate fully in society is because of them and their disability. Carol Gill at the Chicago Institute of Disability Research wrote a paper that strove to see how people with disabilities are seen by society, as well as how people with disabilities see themselves. Gill believes that there has been an overemphasis on the medical model of disability, which has kept people with disabilities from being able to fully participate in society. Following is a description of the five key differences between the two models.

1. The medical model says that disability is a deficiency or abnormality whereas the social model says that disability is a difference, just as a person’s gender, age or race is a difference.

2. The medical model says that having a disability is negative whereas the social model says that having a disability is neutral. It is a part of who you are.

3. The medical model says that the disability is in you and it is your problem, whereas the social model says that disability exists in the interaction between the individual and society. Disability issues stem from someone with a disability trying to function in an inaccessible society.

4. The medical model tries to remedy disability through a medical cure or by trying to make the person appear less disabled or more “normal”, whereas the social model says that the remedy is a change in the interaction between the individual and society. When society changes the issues of a person with a disability disappear. If a building is fully accessible it doesn’t matter if a person walks in, runs in or comes in with a wheelchair or walker.

5. And finally, the medical model says that the fix is found with a professional. The only person who can help a person with a disability fit into society, and be accepted, is a professional. The social model, however, says that the fix can be found within the individual with a disability or anyone who wants people with disabilities to be equally included in society, including you, the person reading this blog right now.

For too long people with disabilities have been told that there is something wrong with them, that they need to be fixed and that they shouldn’t be surprised that they are not fully welcomed or able to participate in society. These negative messages are often internalized by people with disabilities, which creates even more barriers to participation. However, more people with disabilities are finding their voices, and asserting their rights, all the while challenging the perceptions, definitions, and models of disability that currently exist. They are stating that we must move away from the medical model, which states that the person with the disability is the problem, towards the social model, which emphasizes that society itself has a responsibility to create inclusive communities. As the differences in the models are being shared and explained, people with disabilities are gaining support and understanding from others in society, be they politicians, city employees, advocates, non-profit organizations, medical professionals, and/or individuals within the community. People are joining together to state that disability, like gender, age, and/or race should not be a barrier to participation. Gill’s paper on the two differing models has helped to move that dialogue forward.

You, too, can be part of the move away from the medical model and towards the social model. You can help to work towards an inclusive society whereby the disability no longer ostracizes, and where one no longer sees a person with a disability as less than their fellow community members.