Understanding Disability

Well, I’ve open a big messy box.

Understanding disability isn’t easy. Disability is a complex process that involves the following areas:

  • Social beliefs
  • Built environment
  • Medical system
  • Bodily limitations

An important thing to remember is that everyone is influenced by these factors, but for disabilities the factors you focus on can drastically change how disability is understood.

Below I’m going to highlight a few of the understandings of disability that I might bring up on the blog.

Medical Model:

This is the model of disability that is most common within Canada.  This model focuses on a persons limitation because of bodily difference. Within this understanding we see other models like the recovery or rehabilitation model. These models focus more specifically on a person moving into a ‘normal’ range of ability.

Focus: bodily limitations and medical systems.

Social Model:

The social model is basically the opposite of the medical model. This model suggests that disability is created by the barriers that society create for people who do not fit within ‘normal’. For example, barriers connected to the stigma of people with neurodiverse brains means that these people have a lower employment rate.

Focus: Social beliefs and the built environment.

But its not that simple. Both models focus to much on certain areas that create disability. As a result both have had a lot of debate around them.

When it comes down to it disability is a factor of all the above factors. I personally use understandings of disability that lean towards the social model because of the over whelming presence of the medical model in Canada. This leads to a number of negative stereotypes about people with disabilities that lead to a lower quality of life for a large group of people in Canadian society.

However, there are a lot of different ways to understand disability.  There is a rights model, popular in the US that resulted in protests and the creation of new laws related to disability. If you want to read more about the different models I suggest reading Disability Politics and Theory by A.J. Withers.

There is no perfect model for understanding disability. You really just have to be open to letting disability be complex and different for everyone. Some disabilities are visible, some are not. Some disabilities have whole cultures and languages developed around them, other have people trying their best to blend in with others. Be willing to learn new things about disability and challenge your views about what disability means.

Cause ‘normal’ is a statistical concept, its about math. No one person will ever be ‘normal’ in every way. Let go of normal and embrace the complexity of life. Become aware when your putting people into boxes they don’t fit into. It will makes life easier for everyone if people don’t have to prove their worth when they don’t fit into ‘normal’.

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