3.1 Models of disability

Disability means, ‘a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of a person.’ (Equal Opportunities act, Malta, 2000)

medical model – disabled people are seen as the problem. They need to change and adapt to circumstances (if they can), and there is no suggestion that society needs to change.

Social model – disability is caused by the barriers that exist within society and the way society is organised, which discriminates against people with impairments and excludes them from involvement and participation.

Through the social model, disability is defined as ‘the disadvantage or restriction caused by a contemporary social organisation which takes no or little account of people who have [physical] impairments and thus excludes them from the mainstream of social activities.’

The social model sees ‘impairment is an individual limitation, while a disability is a socially imposed restriction’.

‘It is not the condition that is important, but the effect that has on the person and his or her work or learning. More precisely, the environment and structure of the organisation may enable or restrict people with particular impairments.’ (SKILL, 2008)

Apart these two models, other models of disability emerge from readings of which; charity, administrative, scientific, moral and cultural. Each model gives its own interpretation of what disability and/or accessibility means. Depending on the viewing angle of the particular model, disability is defined by identifying  factors which ‘make’ disability. At this point in time I am convinced that the social model should be the most appropriate guideline to define disability and accessibility. Still due to at times differing viewpoints of various stakeholders found in an educational setting, it might not be an easy task to embed accessibility in learning.

see thorough list of models on group wiki


SKILL (2008) Disability Awareness Guide Available from: http://readingroom.lsc.gov.uk/lsc/National/cas-disability_guide_db-jan09.pdf (accessed 22 September 2011).

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