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What is the Social Model of Disability?

An estimated 1.3 billion people – about 16% of the global population – currently experience significant disability. According to the 2011 Census of India, there were approximately 2.68 crore (26.8 million) people with disabilities in India. This represents about 2.21% of the total population of India. However, it's important to note that the number of people with disabilities in India will likely be undercounted due to stigma, lack of awareness, and access to services. Additionally, the 2011 census data is already outdated, and India's population have grown since then, so the number of people with disabilities have likely increased as well.

People conceptualize disability in various ways, varying across time, location, and individual perspectives. As a result, various models of disability are emerging worldwide. The Social Model of Disability is a way of understanding disability that focuses on the societal barriers and discrimination faced by people with disabilities rather than their individual impairments. It posits that it is not the person who is disabled but rather the society in which they live that disables them.

The Social Model of Disability originated in the United Kingdom in the 1970s as a response to the Medical Model of Disability, which viewed disability as a problem that must be fixed or cured. The Medical Model focused on the individual's impairments and saw the person with a disability as "broken" and needing fixing. It is a way of understanding and thinking about disability that emphasizes the impact of societal barriers and discrimination rather than focusing on an individual's impairments or medical conditions.

The traditional Medical Model views disability as a problem within the individual that can be fixed or cured through medical intervention or technology. In contrast, the Social Model argues that disability is caused by how society is organized, and the barriers built into it, such as lack of accessible buildings, transportation, and communication.

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For example, a wheelchair user trying to enter a building with stairs but no ramp demonstrates the medical model's idea that disability is the individual's responsibility rather than that of the environment. It focuses on the person's limitations rather than the situation or context.

Under the Social Model, people with disabilities are not seen as "disabled" or "handicapped" but as individuals facing barriers and discrimination daily. This model emphasizes removing these barriers and creating a more inclusive society rather than trying to "fix" the individual.

One key aspect of the Social Model is the idea of "reasonable accommodations," which refers to the adjustments needed to make society more accessible for people with disabilities. Examples include providing captioning for a video, creating an audio version of a website, or installing a ramp to a building.

Another important aspect is "social role valorization," which means valuing and respecting people with disabilities for who they are rather than judging or stigmatizing them based on their impairments or conditions. This means recognizing that people with disabilities have the same rights and abilities as everyone else and should be included in all aspects of society, such as education, employment, and community life.

In summary, the Social Model of Disability shifts the focus from the individual to society and argues that society must work to remove barriers and create an inclusive environment for people with disabilities. This approach can lead to more effective and equitable solutions for people with disabilities.

Finally, we must remember that we all have a role to play.

The Welsh Government's Let's Talk Respect campaign team has produced its first animation—a short film called "Let's Raise the Roof" to illustrate #TheSocialModelofDisability. The film is about Sam, a non-disabled person in a world full of wheelchair users. The animation follows Sam as he tries to make a good first impression at his new job. It's a film with a serious message and is just the start of our journey to breaking down barriers and embracing the Social Model. WATCH: Let's Raise the Roof - A Social Model of Disability


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