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Blog: “It’s society that disables individuals, not their impairments”

Richard Hill MBE talks to us about models of disability, setting out what is meant by ‘models of disability' and aims to provide clarity on how we should look at disability within the context of wider conversations

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Blog: “It’s society that disables individuals, not their impairments”

Richard Hill MBE

In our latest blog, Richard Hill MBE, ECB National Disabilities Pathway Manager, talks to us about models of disability, setting out what is meant by ‘models of disability’ and aims to provide clarity on how we should look at disability within the context of wider conversations. It’s an important part of our education and understanding to be as inclusive as possible in our everyday lives.

“I think it’s fair to say I could spend hours, days, weeks talking about this subject – so please bear with me as I condense it substantially. If you get to the end and feel compelled to ask more questions than you have answers, I have achieved my ambition.

“You may have come across the term ‘models of disability’, albeit in conversations or in formal training days or events in your workplace, but perhaps never truly understood its meaning.

“I say this from personal experience, having attended training sessions where the course tutor has simply referenced the Social Model of Disability, to which everyone just nodded, hoping that they won’t get questioned on what exactly it is.

“I hope this piece helps verbalise what is meant by ‘models of disability’, in particular the two most common models in today’s society – the Medical Model and the Social Model.

“The Medical Model looks primarily at what is ‘wrong’ with a person and focuses on the impairment as if it’s a problem that needs curing. It encourages the use of methods such as medical treatments to allow that person to fit in with the rest of society, rather than what they need. It creates low expectations and leads to people losing independence and control in their own lives.

“The Social Model is the opposite – focusing not so much on the person's impairment being the problem, but the social construct around us. It refers to society making the person impaired because of physical barriers in place or societal attitudes (both derogatory and exclusionary).

“Physical barriers include information in written form for those with visual impairments or accessing public transport as a person with mobility issues. Unless you have prebooked your ticket and pre-booked assistance to board and alight a train, then this mode of transport becomes out of bounds for you.

Social Model of Disability

Social Model of Disability

“Societal attitudes, such as discrimination and prejudice and the de-valuing of people with disabilities through psychological means, have as much of an impact. This can be things like employments of people with disabilities – where only half (52.1%) of those with a disability in the UK were in employment in 2020.”

“Most people with disabilities are aware of the differing models and don’t just live by one ‘code’. At any one point, each of the models has an impact and can and should be used to advantage the individual – both in isolation or in cross-over with other models.

“We can all do better in contributing to the Social Model of Disability, supporting colleagues and friends with disabilities to ensure the environment is as welcoming and accessible as possible, such as organising a meeting or event. If I can ask you to take one thing from this blog, it’s to implement small changes to your own lives to prevent barriers for people with disabilities.”  

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