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The Social Model of Disability

The Social model of disability is a civil rights based approach to disability developed by disabled people in the 1970s and 1980s. 

The Social model of disability rejects the medical idea that the problem lies with the individual disabled person who is damaged, sick and in need of a cure. Instead it puts forward the view that it is the way society is run and organised that is the problem not the individual disabled person. For example:

  • Buildings are built that disabled people cannot get into.
  • Information is produced in ways that disabled people cannot use.
  • Attitudes and stereotypes about disabled people prevent us from having the same opportunities as non-disabled people.
  • Special services are created that keep disabled people segregated and cut off from everybody else

The Social model of disability identifies systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) that mean society is the main contributory factor in disabling people. While physical, sensory, intellectual, or psychological variations, may cause individual functional limitation or impairments, these do not have to lead to disability unless society fails to take account of and include people regardless of their individual differences.

For us at KDC, the word disability is used to refer to the restrictions caused by society when it does not give equivalent attention and accommodation to the needs of individuals with impairments.