What is Disability… Am I disabled?

This is both a simple and a complex question which can be very easily answered, although there are a couple of different ways to answer it. The answers will be different depending on if we use the Medical, Social or Affirmation Model to help us understand and organise the world around us.

A Medical Model of disability defines disability as something wrong with you which is caused by a physical, emotional, or mental impairment; it says you HAVE a disability. Within the Medical Model, disability is largely an individual concern, and is managed (or ideally cured) through medical
therapies or technologies. A Medical Model will say that you are disabled if you have condition X or condition Y or you have had the misfortune to have an accident which has caused your disability.

The Social Model of disability proposes that what makes you disabled is not your medical condition, but the attitudes and structures of society; you ARE disabled. A Social Model understands disability to be created for the most part, not by our impairments, but by the structural inequities you encounter in society: it is the experience of barriers which define disability, and not individual conditions. These barriers exist as physical, cultural and economic and can exclude you, preventing your social participation. The Social Model encourages you to self identify as disabled and does not put any emphasis on ‘diagnosis’.

The Affirmation Model offers you the opportunity of overlaying a positive element to the experience of disability. Within the Affirmation Model, we accept disability as a characteristic of life to be valued as well as managed and one which presents unique perspectives. The Affirmation Model is aspirational as it offers you the opportunity to flourish and to become the person that you want to be, a choice which is generally lacking amongst other models which view your disability as something tragic.

Responding to disability also varies according to which model you are using. A Medical Model which understands disability in terms of disease/condition progression responds by trying to find a cure or management approach to mitigate symptoms. A Medical Model would present a list of conditions with adaptations connected to each condition or medical situation. For example, medical professionals would recommend the use of coloured tracing paper or fidget cushions for somebody autistic as these are associated with managing the symptoms of neurodivergent conditions. However, one autistic person may experience an entirely different set of experiences than another neurodivergent person and attempting to overlay somebody else’s experiences can serve to reinforce inequalities and disadvantage.

The would put an emphasis on the employer and what could be put in place in the workplace to ensure staff can perform as an effective professional. The Medical Model would emphasise the individual and
their impairments and how the condition affects staff members` at work.The onus being on the individual to resolve their own situation

It’s up to you how you choose to understand your own disability. We all have our interpretations and ironically 70% of Disabled People have not heard of the Social Model of disability.

What’s your story?

“The first step in fighting for disability rights is sharing your story.”

Send us your story using the form below or send it to us in any format you wish: audio, video, picture or text.