The Charity Model casts the disabled person forever in the “poor unfortunate” role. It emphasises and encourages dependence on others rather than independence – one might say it is a form of “killing with kindness” since if this is taken to extremes the disabled person may lose those life skills they had and become increasingly dependent.
The disabled person is represented as “brave” and “admirable” solely because they live with their impairment, an object of pity and the focus of attempts to extort money from others in order to address the person’s extensive and expensive needs. There is little or no recognition of the potential for independence or of the role of the disabled person in selecting the services they need or want.
The Medical Model of Disability
Our society often considers disability to be a tragedy for the individual and a burden for the family and society. This is based on the ‘medical model’ of disability. This model focuses on the lack of physical, sensory or mental functioning, and uses a clinical way of describing an individual’s disability. There are certain ‘norms’ in development and in functioning against which the person is judged – the focus is on what they cannot do, rather than what they can do.
This model leads to a dehumanising view, where only the nature and severity of the impairment is important, together with the extent to which the difference can be put right or minimised (cured or corrected).
Some medical and other professionals are uncomfortable with disability, either because the condition cannot be “cured” and represents a persistent “failure” by the health professions, or because of the role those professions may have had in the aetiology (cause) of the condition / impairment (e.g. brain damage resulting from a badly handles birth process).
This model defines and categorises disabled people by their impairment, and it casts the individual person as “the victim” or “the problem”.
Many disabled people have rejected this model. They say it has led to their low self esteem, undeveloped life skills, poor education and consequent high unemployment levels. Above all, they have recognised that the medical model results in the breaking of natural relationships with their families, communities and society as a whole.
The Social Model of Disability
Disabled people have arrived at a different ‘model’ to help understand the situation. They are challenging people to give up the idea that disability is a medical problem requiring ‘treatment’, but to understand instead that disability (distinct from impairment1) is a problem of exclusion from ordinary life.
This is what is known as the ‘social model’ of disability, requiring a change in society’s values and practices in order to remove the barriers to participation that truly discriminate against disabled people. It is clear that this is possible and is starting to happen, e.g. changing steps into ramps, providing information in Braille or other formats, valuing different learning styles.
The understanding and acceptance of the social model of disability by non-disabled people builds a community of allies that speeds the progress of attitudinal change. This in turn will have a positive impact on creating a barrier-free society that will gain the full benefit of the talents and contributions of all its citizens, and in which disabled people will take their rightful place in education, the workforce and all aspects of community life. Removing barriers for disabled people usually benefits everyone (e.g. ramps may be used by porters and those with pushchairs, wheeled suitcases, etc.).