Definitions of Disability

The Equality Act (2010) defines a disability as:

A physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effects on your ability to do normal daily activities. This is a Medical Model view which sees disability as being caused by an impairment which negativity impacts on an individual who is unable to do ‘normal’ activities, identifying defining disability as tragedy.

World Health Organisation promotes a view of disability that is a mixture
of the medical and Social Model which incorporates:

  • Impairments, as problems in body function or alterations in body structure, for example, paralysis or blindness;
  • Activity limitations, as difficulties in executing activities, for example, walking or eating; and
  • Participation restrictions, as problems with involvement in any area of life, for example, facing discrimination in employment or transportation.

The Social Model of disability was developed by Disabled People and says that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for Disabled People. When barriers are removed, Disabled People can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives. It offers the following as a counter to the Medical Model definition:

You are disabled if on a ‘substantial’ or ‘long term’ basis you have had to deal with other people’s oppressive expectations and assumptions about people with impairments, and have on that basis found your life made difficult and your opportunities for equal participation restricted.
(Cameron, 2023).

The Affirmation Model builds on the understanding developed in the Social Model and validates impairment as part of ordinary human difference and rejects understanding impairment only as individual deficit. In the Affirmation Model, disability is identified as a form of social oppression imposed on people with impairments in their encounters with normalising judgements in everyday life, and in terms of the outcomes of those encounters.

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