“I don’t mean to teach you to suck eggs”

The Social Model of Disability Wonderful  (23)


This might be a little same old same old for some, but might be an eye opener for others, but either way I felt I should put some information out there to support an ever growing voice from the disabled community for our society to implement fully the Social Model of Disability. May be this will educate some people and that can’t hurt. We are, regretfully, some way from making this model of society a reality, so very far in so many aspects of society that it almost stuns me to realise what else needs to be achieved still. But this blog is not about complaining, this blog is about informing from the standing of the question, “What is the Social Model of Disability?”.

History: accessibleIn 1975, the UK organization Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) claimed: “In our view it is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society. In 1983, the disabled academic Mike Oliver coined the phrase “social model of disability” in reference to these ideological developments. Oliver focused on the idea of an individual model (of which the medical was a part) versus a social model, derived from the distinction originally made between impairment and disability by the UPIAS. The “social model” was extended and developed by academics and activists in the UK, US and other countries, and extended to include all disabled people.


The Social Model of Disability says that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives. Disabled people developed the Social Model of Disability because the traditional medical model did not explain their personal experience of disability or help to develop more inclusive ways of living. (Impairment is defined as the limitation of a person’s physical, mental or sensory function on a long-term basis.)

 Changing attitudes

Barriers are not just physical. Attitudes found in society, based on prejudice or stereotype (also called disablism), also disable people from having equal opportunities to be part of society. 1f

Medical model of disability1a

The Social Model of Disability says that disability is caused by the way society is organised. The medical model of disability says people are disabled by their impairments or differences. Under the medical model, these impairments or differences should be ‘fixed’ or changed by medical and other treatments, even when the impairment or difference does not cause pain or illness. The medical model looks at what is ‘wrong’ with the person and not what the person needs. It creates low expectations and leads to people losing independence, choice and control in their own lives.

 Some examples

  1. A wheelchair user wants to get into a building with a step at the entrance. Under a social model solution, a ramp would be added to the entrance so that the wheelchair user is free to go into the building immediately. Using the medical model, there are very few solutions to help wheelchair users to climb stairs, which excludes them from many essential and leisure activities.
  2. A teenager with a learning difficulty wants to work towards living independently in their own home but is unsure how to pay the rent. Under the social model, the person would be supported so that they are enabled to pay rent and live in their own home. Under a medical model, the young person might be expected to live in a communal home.
  3. A child with a visual impairment wants to read the latest best-selling book to chat about with their sighted friends. Under the medical model, there are very few solutions but a social model solution ensures full text audio-recordings are available when the book is first published. This means children with visual impairments can join in with cultural activities on an equal basis with everyone else 1e

“Social Model of Disability in the workplace” by Disability at WorkWonderful  (49)

The following link is a really good insight into the Social Model of Disability in the work place, well worth expanding your knowledge by cross reading with this article which has been well received:


There are several references one can access to read more about this subject and several helpful PowerPoint presentations to be found by just typing Social Model of Disability into Google or another search engine.

1cMy personal experience is that this is the right model in order to focus society into changing to be inclusive, by removing one barrier at a time, but heck do we have such a long way to go. I really do feel that steps are being made, but much more is needed. Therefore the campaigns and the deliberate highlighting of barriers to inclusion must continue. Will we ever get there? perhaps but it will take several generations, as in a time of recession it is such a low priority for so many Authorities, public and private organisations/companies, there is just no money for significant changes to public transport, buildings, etc. So we will continue to campaign based on the Social Model of Disability. We have to if we want true inclusiveness in our communities, in our societies.



Jonathan Wade

Smiling Cat Ventures and Innovations Group



Smiling Cat Ventures Ltd (www.smilingcatventures.org)

Innovative Minds At Work Ltd (www.innovativemindsatwork.org)

Moments in Time Ltd (www.momentsinmind.org)

Innovative Business Consultancy Ltd (www.ibcv.org.uk)

Systems of Equality Ltd

Passport to Care Ltd (Social Enterprise – Not For Profit)

Spiritual Inclusion (Social Enterprise – Not For Profit)

Disability In Business Centre (in development)

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