Understanding Disability

What is ‘the problem’?
From the point of view of the medical model it is the individual, the impairment or the medical condition. Problems of communication emanate from the fact that the individual is deaf, or ‘has aphasia’ or is a ‘stroke victim’. From the viewpoint of the social model, the problem is the disabling society that is geared by and for non-disabled people – for ‘normal’ communication.
What of individual change?
The medical model is orientated towards normality – to walk, to hear, to see. The social model, however, is directed towards transforming consciousness, that is towards the affirmation that disability is a political issue.
What of changing services?
From the medical model, what is needed is more of the same, for example more speech therapy provided by trained speech therapists. From a social model viewpoint, it is control by disabled clients of their own services that is of paramount importance, for example direct payments has been a significant development for many disabled people.
And political change?
From the medical viewpoint it is empowerment of powerless people by those who possess the power – power handed down. Looking from the social model, the politics of change are in the struggles by those who lack power.
And finally what of the future?
From the viewpoint of the medical model it is the maintenance of a normal society with more effective services to cure or care for those rendered or deemed to be abnormal. For the social model the vision of the future is full participatory citizenship and equal rights for all disabled people.
[by S. French and J. Swain]