Is the Social Model of Disability Flawed? : LUSENET : Connections Disability : One Thread

There is currently a debate about whether the Social Model of Disability is flawed. What do you think?

-- Frances Duffy (, September 02, 1999


The idea is that it is not a persons impairment which makes them disabled but the barriers that society presents e.g an inaccessible building for a wheelchair user.

Have a look at the short articles by: The Liverpool organisation 'Ideas in Motion': http:// and Disability Net 'The Social Model of Disability - defining impairment': http://

From Dave Lupton of 'Crippen': "We believe that we can't play our full role in society, because society puts up barriers that prevent us being included." social_model.htm

-- Jim Byrne (, September 03, 1999.


could you please give a definition of 'social model of disability'? i'm across the ocean in New Jersey, and would like to understand exactly what you mean.


-- Irene Lynch (, September 03, 1999.

Thank you for raising this question, Frances. The social model or 'social barriers' model as some people describe it has tended to be adopted without much debate, and this lack of challenge has prevented further development of the ideas. My understanding is that the model does not fully recognise the reality of impairment, and by locating disablement entirely in society tends to undervalue difference and diversity within individuals.

The social model also has limitations in its explanation of the social construction of disability - in other words, what creates and maintains these barriers? Do they persist because capitalist states set out deliberately to exclude disabled people from economic and social roles as a 'reserve army of labour'? Do they persist through individual fear and ignorance sustained by social and media imagery which represents disabled people as alien? Do they persist because of dependency creation by the human service industry, which prefers to have people as clients rather than citizens?

The social model also needs further development in its account of the treatment of people with a learning difficulty and people with mental he

-- Pete Ritchie (, September 06, 1999.

the social model of disability is flawed in a number of ways. Firstly, the model does not portray a realistic picture of a capatilist society,such as Great Britain's. This is because "disablity" at it's very core is something that is indefinable in it's own context. Thus one must conclude that a model perpetuating a false ideology is irrelevant to the real needs of disabled people. Also someone who is "disabled" can be you or me. By definition the word stipulates that a task or event is not complete because the person was unable to do it. Thus in a general onclusion, the social model of diasbility is increduously flawed in two simple but quintessential ways.

-- sean walker (, October 11, 1999.

I'm sorry but this last message has me totally stumped as to its meaning. All I know is that I am disabled and society treats me in a different way to my able bodied husband.

-- Jacky Adams (, October 11, 1999.

I recognise the weaknesses in this model. My wife and I are the carers of a little girl who is disabled. Despite the limitations of the model, however, we find insight into this model to be empowering.

Seeing problems in terms of rights, as well as physical and mental limitations has given us a more positive focus than might otherwise be the case when facing the various frustrations in getting things done.

We feel that it helps us to understand the mindset of various professional 'gatekeepers' we have met and to be more persevering as a result.

-- Tom Carey (, November 30, 1999.

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time and trouble to contribute to the electronic part of this debate so far. Sorry I have not had adeqquate time or opportunity to pick up on people's responses before now!

I have high hopes that we an continute in a 'live' form later on in 2000 - perhaps nearer IDDP in December, though, of course, that will be a Sunday this year!

Stay tooned, as they say!

Frances Duffy

-- Frances Duffy (, January 10, 2000.

i must disagree as i think that the social model has many adding contributions to society or maybe we should go back to burrying disabled children alive with their mothers or being segregated in society in institutions. No a step forward, i am a child care worker there are many opportunities now thanx god it the way it should be equality!!!!!!

-- (, April 05, 2001.

The social model of disability turns common myths on their head. The model acknowledges that people do in fact have impairments (ie bits of the body and mind that don't work as well as they could). However the experience of "Disability" is what happens when people come across discrimination which does not take into account their needs.

Many medical professionals wrongly interpret the social model as a model which denies impairment, and therefore denies the role of Doctors and Nurses. If we look closer the model in fact strengthens the role of the Medical Profession by focussing on what they are supposed to do-ie make people better/well. If it can be agreed that Disability/impairment is not an illness then we should also agree that there is no cure and no need for a cure.

People with impairments however do get ill/sick. Sometimes this can ne linked to that persons impairment or can be made worse by it- but the illness does not define the person, neither does the impairment.

the Social Model is a simple concept- No one can wriggle out of the responsibilites that it places on them, the law and developing legislation also supports the Social Model (see DDA, Human Rights Act, and the new Health and Social Care Bill).

So, Dr's and Nurses of the world unite. Don't be afraid. This Model will help you become a better nurse/doctor if you let it. Nurses remember the UKCC- put the patient first, that's all the model asks you to do. Doctors- remember the hypocratic oath- do no harm- well take it to the next level, that's all the social Model asks you to do.

In conclusion- The Social Model is here to stay- hop on board or become roadkill- it's up to you!

-- Conan (, June 11, 2001.

Whilst I agree with many aspects of the Social Model, I think that two groups of disabled people are dominating the arena. Those like Michael Oliver who are so severely disabled, they need 24 hour help so get full support from Social Services etc (Oliver is also on a very good wage), and those disabled people who do not need any personal care at all.

For those of us in between, we have a lot of stress and hastle getting the right support. Several friends are in the same position and now hate what Oliver has done as they want medical research to move on to give them more physical ability.

We should not look down on disabled people who want medicine to increase ability like Christohper Reeve wants, just as we don't look down on atheletes who want to run a bit faster or jump that bit higher... I have had surgery to make me more physically able and am sick of other disabled people critising or questioning me because of it. I'm proud of the things I have done since and know other people who have said the same after the same surgery.

I would hate work like that to be stopped because of the Social Model.

-- anonymous (, January 06, 2002.

I have just completed a masters in disability studies and I don't know if 'flawed' is the correct term, but it certainly misses a lot of issues for those suffering progressive neurological disorders such as Huntington's Disease. The results of my study show that even with the social model of disability being fully implemented people with this disease would still be dependent on dominant professionals who think they know best and therefore people would continue to feel as they do now, lonely, isolated and frightened.

I believe this is probably the way people who have suffered a stroke would also feel. Please visit our stroke group web site at:

If you mentioned the social model of disability to this group of varied age, they would probably not even know what you were talking about.

We can't dismiss the social model, it's a great starting point, but it still needs a lot of work.

-- sandra lawton (, July 08, 2002.

The Social Model of disability is an academic arguement which, like all academia, does not reflect reality. It offers an ideal type or an extreme situation. The Social Model simply illustrates the fact that disability is not just about individual impairment. We must be aware of the role society plays in disabeling people.

-- Jonathan Kidd (, July 22, 2002.

Reading through these responses has been interesting, it appears that much of the mail has actually made the common mistake of misinterpreting the concept and practice of the social model.

The social model does not deny impairment, it does not deny the right to seek treatment and does not deny the right to cure. That is a complete myth. What the social model does is look at the barriers to participation. It demands that society has to accept its responsibility for the fact that physical and attitudinal barriers prevent people from participating in society.

Everyone including Christopher Reeve has the right to seek a treatment, but they do not have the right to portray that unless you can be classed as 'normal' by society you are less of a human being and your life is tragic. Yes a person may have a terminal condition yes life may not be pleasent, but much of what makes our lives unpleasent can be dealt with by people taking the social model principles and applying them properly. The reality is that few professionals understand the social model and even fewer put it into practice.

To dismiss social model as irrelevent is to allow the continuation of a society that expects the Disabled Person to conform to an idea of normailty that is eugenisist and segregationist.

Social Model means that you have rights and entitlements, choice and control and that the barriers for you as an individual are removed. how is this flawed and how is this pure academia?

If this was put into practice by all health professionals and all social care professionals life for many disabled people would be vastly improved.

-- Helen Tyers (Helen, October 17, 2002.

I like defining "disability" as the condition of experiencing social, organizational and/or structural barriers to participation. But suppose there is no such thing as "impairment"? Why is not walking an impairment; why isn't it simply not walking - different from walking, but just as normal? Why isn't not hearing just not hearing - different from hearing but equally normal? Etc. I want to see the Social Model defined as "the situation where people are prevented from participating in ordinary society due to their abilities not being accepted as or

-- Judith Snow; Toronto, Canada (, November 11, 2002.

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