What the Social Model Doesn’t Say

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Chelsea Jay of Models of Diversity

I’ve written before a little bit about the social model of disability. The social model is not an attractive, bubbly disabled cat walker showcasing the latest fashions, though they do exist. It’s a framework for thinking about disability that recognizes the capacity for human created obstacles to disable. This contrasts with the medical model, which conceives of disability as originating from flawed bodies.

When I refer to the social model around people who aren’t involved in a disability community, they often think it says a lot of things it really doesn’t. So today I want to address those common misconceptions.

It doesn’t say medical care is bad.
The social model simply states that medical care isn’t all we need. Someone can be getting the best care imaginable yet still use a wheelchair for mobility assistance, and therefore need accessible doors, sidewalks, public transportation, etc. The social model knows almost everyone can use ramps and elevators but only some people can use stairs, so ramps and elevators should be the default. When stairs are default, that dis-ables people.

It doesn’t say disability is good or bad.
Since the social model is primarily focused on ways the abled world excludes us, and could not, this matter is outside its focus. Some disability communities like Deaf and autistic primarily embrace their differences, while fighting for inclusion. As a whole, the chronic pain community would prefer a cure for what ails us, thanks very much.  Yet we also suffer from socially imposed barriers like the various wars on our medication.

It doesn’t say disability doesn’t exist.
The social model draws a distinction between impairments, problems with our bodies and brains, and disability, or inability to fully participate in life. If we got rid of all the ableism, and the world as a utopia of large print using, Braille reading, sensory overload considerate, sign language using perfect allies, I would still have pain, and migraines, and PTSD. I would still be sick in my head and my guts. But my quality of life would be much, much better which in turn would lessen the severity of my symptoms.

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