Medical and Social Models of Disability Essay
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It could be said that in modern industrial society, Disability is still widely regarded as tragic individual failing, in which its “victims” require care, sympathy and medical diagnosis. Whilst medical science has served to improve and enhance the quality of life for many it could be argued that it has also led to further segregation and separation of many individuals. This could be caused by its insistence on labelling one as “sick”, “abnormal” or “mental”. Consequently, what this act of labelling and diagnosing has done, is enforce the societal view that a disability is an abnormality that requires treatment and that any of its “victims” should do what is required to be able to function in society as an able bodied individual.
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The strong word in this definition is the word ‘normal’ whereby it can be said that the medical model aims to separate those who are considered normal and those that are not by terms of their ability or impairments in regards to undertaking a given tasks. It could be argued that this separation is not an easy task due to the scale and wide range of physical and psychological impairments that exist in a modern aging society, as Barnes and Mercer state “the notion that disablement is a medical problem which affects only a small proportion of the population can no longer be sustained” (1996:11). According the 2011 census one fifth of the population in the UK where registered as having a disability (ONS 2011) , according to another study, four out of every ten adult women and men have a `long standing illness or disability' (CSO, 1996). The size of these figures, when combined with an aging population that is forever rising, are only set to increase year on year. With these figures in mind it could be argued that the full “range of actions” considered normal by society can only be fully undertaken by a select few, making fully abled minded and bodied individuals the minority.
Despite this the medical model still hold on to the belief that individuals need to be treated to adhere to the norm. It is due to this that the model is sometimes also referred to as the “personal tragedy model” as it regards the difficulties that people with an
From a social model point of view “disability ceases to be something that a person has, and becomes instead something that is done to a person.” (Swain, French and Cameron, 2003:23). To be a disabled person means exclusion and “physical, environmental, legal, cultural and additional barriers” limiting their experiences as humans. With the introduction and developmental thinking associated with the social model of disability, the exclusion of disabled people was less tolerated by themselves, being compared to other forms of oppression such as sexism, racism, class and sexuality (Thomas, 2004); the key to the social model way of thinking lying right with the word “oppression.”
To be disabled in the social model context meant to be socially disadvantaged as opposed to physically disadvantaged; and excluded, not because of the individual’s inability to fit in with their surrounding environment, but because of society’s inability to include them. The definition of disability in this way is the key to identifying “social barriers” within the lives of disabled people, and once identified, removing them.
Barnes et al. state that the “social model of disability, transformed disability from medical fact into an outcome of relations of power.” As such, disabled people were now able to identify their own areas of oppression. Agreeing with this, Thomas (2004) states that to disabled people, the social model of disability transformed their lives, allowing a self-vision away from the oppressed ideas, it increased the self-worth of a disabled person, and gave all disabled people a self-identity and shared political fight.
The Disabled Rights Commission was set up in 1997 by Government, and “claims to be guided in everything it does by the social model of disability.” (Oliver, 2004). As argued earlier, the social model of disability is very leaned towards the idea of disabled people as being oppressed, and as disabled thinking from a legal standpoint is now completely influenced by the social model, some critics have come forward against the social model. Tom Shakespeare (2006) identifies UPIAS as being the founders of the modern day rights of disabled people, but also argues that this social model thinking is changing to an extent that it is reversing the good it once did.
He sees the new social model v medical model thinking to be damaging. He argues that the social model does not take into account the people who’s disability leave them completely dependant on care and on medicine. He argues that the social model way of thinking needs to stop recognising the non-disabled as an enemy or immediate oppressor, but rather that as well as only society needing to change to allow inclusion of disabled people, there also needs to be a shift in the recognition of the roles of non-disabled doctors, teachers and supporters in reaching this goal; there needs to be a realisation that not every disabled person wants, or is capable of attending demonstration or disability events; that the social model is just as in danger of promoting exclusion as the medical model.
He believes that the way forward is a combination of both models, drawing on the best points of each, and also creating new ways of thinking to help overcome the barriers that disabled people still face.
- Barnes, C., Oliver, M. and Barton, L. (2002). Introduction. In: C. Barnes, M. Oliver, and L. Barton, (eds). Disability Studies Today. Cambridge: Polity Press
- Oliver, M. (2004). If I had a hammer: the social model in action. In: J. Swain, S. French, C. Barnes and C. Thomas, (eds). Disabling Barriers – Enabling Environments. London: SAGE, pp. 7-12
- Swain, J., French, S. and Cameron, C. (2003). Controversial Issues in a Disabling Society. Buckingham: OU Press
- Thomas, C. (2004). Disability and impairment. In: J. Swain, S. French, C. Barnes and C. Thomas, (eds). Disabling Barriers – Enabling Environments. London: SAGE, pp. 21-27
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