The 4 +1 models of disability.

Inclusive Text Emoji

There are different ways of discussing disability. These are known as theoretical ‘models’ describing the thought process and understanding of disability. In countries with highly regarded records on human rights and disability they have learned that the Social model of disability is the only one which is fair and maintains the dignity of the Disabled Person. -Which is a UN convention recognised Human Right.

This brief article explores the different models of disability and suggests a minor addition. It’s worth remembering, considering and mentioning in any training the immense about of human effort and activism taken by Disabled People to push for rights, in all counties, and to this day this important work is still being undertaken. Many, many lives of Disabled People have been cut short or abused due to organisations and governments not listening or working to the right model of disability. Disabled people of any background or race always have to work much harder to achieve any level of equality due to lack of social privilege, access to funding, unconscious bias or discrimination.

Charity Model of Disability

This model is a frequent failing of many organisations. A classic example where events, sponsorships, challenges, parties and alike are used to raise funds, highlight a cause or otherwise support a disabled person or community by people from outside whom no matter how well meaning are acting in a way which disadvantages the Disabled Person though the requirement of gratitude and perception. The perception of Disabled people as ‘Charity’ or non-disabled people expecting thanks or gratitude for balancing their privilage.

Within this model is the concept of exercising privilege, you can ‘pick and choose’ which people or causes are worth of equipment you think they need. Re-enforcing or suggesting that they can not make decisions, be a part of the conversation, make decisions, or undertake fundraising work for themselves.

Also in this category would be events or games which trivialise disability. Such as placing abled bodied people in wheelchairs or sighted people wearing blindfolds to experience an activity as a disabled person. No such activity gives you an insight into the lives of Disabled People and at worst makes it a loss of dignity. In this model too, we see some disabilities as something to ‘fight’ or ‘challenge’ rather than accepting without judgement.

Administrative Model of Disability

Here we have perhaps the second most dangerous model of inclusion. I say dangerous because applied in anyway this model actively discriminates and affects the health of Disabled People.

This is where systems and tests are developed to classify disabled people by their differences or inabilities. These classifications can then be used for a non-medical administration system to judge levels of benefits, services, equipment or access to support that person needs to live. -I use the word ‘live’ tenderly there as essentially an administration model is about keeping someone alive, not exploring or enhancing their quality of life, independence or dignity.

Medical Model of Disability

This is the most dangerous model of disability to work to. Sadly it is one in the UK and elsewhere in Europe that comes up too often. It is primarily found in medical institutions, but also appears in Schools and local governance particularly those area with overlaps into the Specialised Needs in Education areas. It is worth noting that this is separate from a diagnosis or medical examinations for disabilities. Rather this is the thought model that leads beyond diagnosis into creating virtues of ‘normal’.

Normal and definitions of normality are the critical factor in this model. Tests and procedures are used to classify and identify disabled people based on what medical practitioners think their disability is in relation to an idea of ‘Normal’.

This can apply to identifying and killing Disabled People before they are born, imposing a pedestal of normality on a Disabled Person that can not be achieved and actively discriminating against a person based on their medical classification.

Social Model of Disability

Equal rights. Dignity. Here we are at the only fair model of disability. One where society is seen as the disabling factor against a person, not the disability. This is the model which is protected and enshrined in law in the UK. Under this model society makes adjustments to include all people regardless of disability.

Access to goods and services are proceed from discrimination, health care and support are accessible and there is an enshrined dignity to the Disabled Person being the main voice in any discussions on their life or future.

Its worth noting that under this model Disabled People can contribute to society in a way which enhances culture, wealth and resilience. It allows for strength of community to develop and enhance the world in which we live by including more voices.

Economic Model of Disability

The last model of disability I discuss here is an extension perhaps of the social model, but one which I feel raises the points of inclusion. Here let’s think of Disabled People as ‘Another Customer’.

As discussed above the Social Model is from the concept of an individual focused problem to one of social context in that the disability is actually a function of the environmental and social constraints. A disability would not be a disability if the barriers of the society in which we live did not exist.

The social paradigm however relies on a social conscious or sense of social justice to implement the necessary structural changes to remove the barriers. -Not just complying with the minimum standards prescribed by law, but actually pro-actively removing these barriers.

In my view this is the crucial component missing from the Social Model dialogue.

The motivational factors for this to be implemented are still based on a human rights or fairness issue philosophy, one that has been enshrined in legislation and building laws to drive a social change forward.

The shortcomings of the social model is that the change has been driven as a rights issue and one of compliance that has been seen as a cost that society or organisations must pay for.

Here the social model laws can shift emphasis that it is all about access and not the person. The social model did shift the issue away from the individual to a broader context but did not actually change the focus or the attitudes into valuing a person with a disability as a valued and profitable customer or high value community member.

In other words the legalities simply recognised that barriers are a broader social issue but the social issue was still a problem to be solved. 

Further the social model of disability by definition is prescriptive. It lays down a set of rules at a given point in time. Those rules define minimum requirements on both technical levels, for example ramp slopes, door widths, signage etc and in percentages for example the percentage of total cap spaces needed for people with a disability and the percentage of hotel rooms, picnic facilities etc.

It is driven by social expectations and translated by politicians and then implementors. At that point it ceases to be inclusive and just becomes another problem for organisations to deal with and is handed across to their many management departments.

The economic model is not one of risk mitigation or a reduction in law suit costs but rather one of valuing the economic input of a new customer or member. Business and organisations can ONLY gain from being more inclusive of all people, Disabled People especially will always have a higher regard for a brand or service that respects them and others.

In essence, be inclusive and work to the Social Model of Disability, but also acknowledge the Economic one as a way of increasing both the drive of society to change and also to perhaps make communities more prosperous for all by including Disabled People as customers or high value members of society.