There are various theories regarding disability that examine the social, political, cultural and economic elements that define it in some way.  People who are actively involved in disability awareness and study be it academic scholars or activists etc., often centre debate around two very different models in order to better understand disability; the social model and the medical model of disability.

The Medical Model of Disability

The medical model of disability views the disability as a problem that the person happens to have.  This disability can be caused by disease, traumatic injury or another health condition that requires medical care in the form of individual treatment by medical professionals often over a substantial period of time.  In this model medical care is deemed to be the main issue and the management of the disability is aimed at either providing an eventual cure or the individual adjusting to the disability in such a way that it leads to an ‘almost-cure’.  On a political level, the appropriate response is seen to be the modification of healthcare policies.

The Social Model of Disability

Conversely, the social model of disability says that people with disabilities are disabled by barriers in society not by the disability itself, for example a building not having flat level access would disable someone utilizing a wheelchair as they wouldn’t be able to gain access to the building. Disability is not directly attributed to the individual but a collection of conditions that are often created by the social environment in which one lives.  Therefore, in order to manage the disability, collective social action is required and society in its entirety needs to adapt and make modifications to allow someone with a disability to fully participate in all areas of social life.  This model works towards individual, local community and society wide social change allowing for full integration and participation of a person with a disability; anything less becomes a human rights issue and a cause for major concern.

There are other models of disability also, but these tend to be less widely explored.

The Professional Model

The professional model has often provided a more traditional response to disability issues and it is often related to the medical model.  A framework is used by professionals to identify the disability, the limitations of the disability and the action required to put the disabled person in a better position, is used.  However, this system has been criticized for removing the autonomy from the disabled individual.  Conversely the empowering model of disability allows for the disabled person and their family to decide what services they wish to access and treatment that they wish to receive.  This allows for the service providers to act purely in the capacity of the sign-poster and empowers the individual to pursue their own goals.

The Charity Model/Personal Tragedy Model and The Moral Model

The charity model, also known as the Personal Tragedy Model, views people as victims of circumstance and see them as individuals who deserve pity.  Along with the medical model, this is the way in which most non-disabled people define and explain disability.  However, whilst empathizing with a disabled individual is beneficial, to offer sympathy and to view them in a pitying way is demeaning and often insulting.  The opposite view of this can be seen in the moral model whereby the disabled person is seen to be morally responsible for their own disability and it has come about either as the result of actions taken on the individual’s part or the parents’ actions in cases of congenital diseases.  This model is often steeped in fundamentalist religious rhetoric where disabled individuals can be accused of witchcraft or that they should be killed as if they were a baby and that baby would otherwise be unable to survive on its own in the wild, then they are deemed to be unviable.

The Socially Adapted Model and The Spectrum Model

Other models concentrate further upon the effects of society and the need to view the disability in a more holistic manner.  The socially adapted model states that society and the environment are often far more limiting to the individual than the actual disability itself, whilst the spectrum model refers to the way in which the disability itself does not necessarily mean a reduced spectrum of operations such as visibility, audibility and sensibility.

The Legitimacy Model

The legitimacy model focuses on the ability to provide multiple explanations and that all of the varying models of disability should be considered dependent upon the individual.

The Affirmation Model

The affirmation model is a non- tragic view of disability, and is thus the opposite of the personal tragedy model. The affirmation model builds on the social model and views that impairment encompasses positive social identities for disabled people and promotes the benefits of experience and lifestyle of living with an impairment.

There are two models that look at economic factors surrounding the disability, they are the economic model and the market model of disability.

The Economic Model

The economic model defines a person’s disability by their inability to work.  It looks at the way in which the disability affects their productivity and the subsequent effects upon both the individual in terms of loss of earnings and the employer in relation to lower profit margins.

The Market Model

The market model of disability recognises that disabled people represent a very large consumer group, employees and voters.  The model seeks for the individual to define their own disability and focuses on economic empowerment as they represent such large numbers within society with a huge earning potential, as well as a huge spending power.

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