Disability 101

Medical Model, Charity Model, and the Social Model

A lot of people start their disability journey thinking in terms of what is called the medical model of disability. The medical model holds that disability is a problem within people’s bodies. It sees disabilities as imperfections that should and need to be “fixed,” to return the person to being nondisabled. The medical model is intertwined with ableism (more on this later) viewing that disabled bodies and minds are less valuable than that of nondisabled people. “The medical model tends to believe that curing or at least managing illness or disability revolves around identifying the illness or disability from an in-depth clinical perspective (in the sense of the scientific understanding undertaken by trained healthcare providers), understanding it, and learning to control and/or alter its course” (Source). The medical model is extremely prevalent in society, but there are lots of other ways to understand disability. 

A model similar to the medical model is called the charity model. This model considers disabled people as objects of pity and reliant on nondisabled people to be included in society. It is “relying on the good will of others to fund services for people with disability, rather than recognizing personal support as a right that the government has an obligation to support” (Source). “The Charity approach to disability is viewed as being in the ‘best interests’ of disabled people but it does not consider disabled people’s experiences and knowledge as necessarily valuable or essential” (Source).

Related to the charity model, there is also the religious model of disability which “is a pre-modern paradigm that views disability as an act of a god, usually a punishment for some sin committed by the disabled individual or their family. In that sense, disability is punitive and tragic in nature” (Source). The religious model is still prevalent in a lot of thinking about disability, but there are some efforts to push back against these notions of disability within religious groups.

One model looking to push back on the prior view of disability is called the social model of disability. Instead of focusing on the “problem” inside someone’s body or mind, the social model identifies that it is society’s lack of access and attitude towards disability that ends up disabling people. In other words, “while physical, sensory, intellectual, or psychological variations may cause individual functional limitation or impairments, these do not have to lead to disability unless society fails to take account of and include people regardless of their individual differences” (Source).

Here is a blog series on different types of models of disability: https://www.drakemusic.org/blog/nim-ralph/understanding-disability/ 

For other models of disability, check out this website: https://www.disabled-world.com/definitions/disability-models.php