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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Jul 17, 2023

What is the Social Model Of Disability? I’ll let its proponents describe it in their own words (emphases and line breaks mine)

The Social Model Of Disability Explained (top Google result for the term):

Individual limitations are not the cause of disability. Rather, it is society’s failure to provide appropriate services and adequately ensure that the needs of disabled people are taken into account in societal organization.

Disability rights group Scope:

The model says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference.

The American Psychological Association:

It is [the] environment that creates the handicaps and barriers, not the disability.

From this perspective, the way to address disability is to change the environment and society, rather than people with disabilities.

Foundation For People With Learning Disabilities:

The social model of disability proposes that what makes someone disabled is not their medical condition, but the attitudes and structures of society. 

University of California, San Francisco:

Disabilities are restrictions imposed by society. Impairments are the effects of any given condition. The solution, according to this model, lies not in fixing the person, but in changing our society.

Medical care, for example, should not focus on cures or treatments in order to rid our bodies of functional impairments. Instead, this care should focus on enhancing our daily function in society.

The Social Model’s main competitor is the Interactionist Model Of Disability, which says that disability is caused by an interaction of disease and society, and that it can be addressed by either treating the underlying condition or by adding social accommodations.

In contrast to the Interactionist Model, the Social Model insists that disability is only due to society and not disease, and that it may only be addressed through social changes and not medical treatments.

. . . this isn’t how the Social Model gets taught in real classrooms. Instead, it’s contrasted with “the Medical Model”, a sort of Washington Generals of disability models which nobody will admit to believing. The Medical Model is “disability is only caused by disease , society never contributes in any way, and nobody should ever accommodate it at all . . . ” Then the people describing it add “. . . and also, it says disabled people should be stigmatized, and not treated as real humans, and denied basic rights”. Why does the first part imply the second? It doesn’t matter, because “the Medical Model” was invented as a bogeyman to force people to run screaming into the outstretched arms of the Social Model.