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Portrait in Wheelchair

The Social Model of Disability 

The Social Model of Disability is a response to the Medical Model of Disability spearheaded by disability rights activism as early as the 1960s. The social model explains disadvantages to impaired individuals due to society's structure rather than the impairment itself. When systemic barriers are removed, the impaired individual is free and can participate fully in life as they perceive it (Goering S., 2015). 


For instance, people who are deaf from birth may understand their senses as neutral and a natural way of being rather than a problem. They may see themselves as normal until they enter society. It isn't until speaking individuals attempt to communicate with them that they encounter communication breakdowns. If everyone learned sign language, it is plausible to presume that communication would not be an issue between hearing and hearing-impaired individuals (Goering S., 2015).

Examples of societal barriers include but are not limited to inaccessible physical spaces (i.e., no ramps for wheelchairs), discrimination, bullying, fear, laws (i.e., some countries do not allow autistic immigrants), policies (i.e., banks not allowing visually impaired people to open accounts), and internalization of low self-confidence (Disability Poverty and Development, 2000).

From the perspective of the Social Model of Disability, individuals with mental and physical impairments (i.e., different functioning than the majority) are not seen as the problem; the intrinsic barriers of an ableist society are (Olkin R., 2022).

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