Social Model of Disability


The Social Model of Disability was developed by UPIAS 1976. Since then, theorists (Finklestein, 1980, Barnes, 1991, and Oliver 1990,1996) have developed it further. Mike Oliver actually drove the model into the public eye and this is the more prevalent view. It turns the original ideas on their heads.  This model argues that the real problem lies with society, by saying that there are various social and physical barriers which hinder people’s lives who have disabilities.  Using a shopkeeper example, he/she should make sure their shop is wheelchair accessible. By law all shops must be wheelchair accessible.

There are issues with the terminology. The words, disability and impairment have certain meanings. The word, disability refers to disabling barriers which prohibit people from participating fully in society, whereas the word, impairment refers to the person’s lack of body movement or psychological state which could impair them. I think this bit of terminology is confusing, because we generally refer to people as having disabilities, rather than people with impairments. However, when I looked up the term, impairment, in the dictionary, it means something is incomplete or faulty. Let us face it, no one would like to be referred to as faulty, so that is probably why we refer to them as having disabilities.

The Social Model is split into two parts. There are physical barriers and social barriers.

What are the social barriers? Social barriers hinder people from participating in society. For example, someone wants to go somewhere using public transport and the bus or train does not have wheelchair access. Another example is a shop has a few steps to the entrance.

One of the major social barriers is the availability for people with disabilities to carry out social roles, such as, not being able to fulfil certain duties, or not being able to easily lead a conversation. Social barriers are considered to hinder the social functioning of people with disabilities. Take the family unit for example, if the husband has a severe disability, he would find it difficult to do certain social roles. Similarly, in the olden days, women were seen as housewives. So, if she had a severe disability, her duties as a housewife might be affected.

Going back to people with disabilities not being able to easily lead a conversation, if someone has just a physical disability, which means their mental functioning is working fine, this suggests there must be external factors. People who use communication aids talk at a slower pace as people who can `verbally` speak. With the first point in mind, I conclude that people with no speech can, in theory, lead a conversation. If we think of a conversation between two people without speech impairments, there are not any silences. People usually find silences awkward. I ask the question: is the problem that people want to avoid the silences so are not willing to wait for their communication partner, who uses a communication aid, to speak?