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The Social Model of Disability

There are two contrasting ways of thinking about disability. Traditionally it was thought that people were disabled by their individual medical conditions of mind, body or senses. This way of thinking is now called the medical model of disability.

An opposite way of thinking came from disabled people themselves which is now known as the social model of disability. It says that people are not disabled by their individual impairments, but by not being considered part of the community and not being taken into account in all areas of society. In other words, people with impairments are disabled by social barriers.

The social model of disability can be summed up by these definitions of impairment and disability:

  • Impairment is the loss or limitation of physical, mental or sensory function on a long-term or permanent basis.
  • Disability is the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the community on an equal level with others due to physical and social barriers.