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What is disability?

From: <goliver@accease.com>
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2002 00:13:04 -0800 (PST)
To: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Message-Id: <20020314001307.27998.c000-h009.c000.wm@mail.accease.com.criticalpath.net>
Two weeks ago on the phone conference a discussion was
started on the medical model and the social model of
My business partner Robyn has kindly provided a summary.
If you wish to comment to the list please CC Robyn


*The medical model of disability*

- The medical model of disability deals with the
individual impairment
- It is usually about ‘illness’ ‘disease,’ ‘treatment’
and ‘cure,’ and does not always take into account the
whole person. It is often concerned with solving
individual problems Not everyone can be treated or
cured, and some would choose not to be cured if the
means were available.
- Because of this emphasis the impairment is often seen
by non-disabled people as a ‘lack’ or ‘deficit’
- Many disabled people do not necessarily have ongoing
impairment related medical needs, do not want their
lives mediacalised, and are not ‘patients’ in their
daily lives, They see this approach as irrelevant,
narrow and unduly negative.
- Using this approach is not appropriate in situations
other than medical

*The social model of disability*

- The social model of disability distinguishes between
disability and impairment.
- Disability is not what individuals have. Individuals
have impairments. They may be physical, sensory,
neurological, psychiatric, intellectual or other
- Disability is the disadvantage created by society.
- The focus is on ‘disabling’ barriers and attitudes
and on the different issues that affect the daily lives
of disabled people rather than focusing on the affects
of individual impairments such as blindness or cerebral
- The social model concentrates on the removal of the
physical, social and economic barriers in order for
disabled people to participate fully in life.
- The social model is based on the human rights of
disabled people in terms of access, education and
employment options.
- Impairment is addressed within this context.
- The social model acknowledges government and the
community responsibility for addressing disadvantage.
- Disability and impairment are separate entities.
Disability is dependent on social events and is
therefore open to change. Disability is not an
inevitable consequence of impairment.
- Accessible web design is the social model in action,
seeking to modify the environment rather than ‘fix’ the
individual, and thereby reduce disability. 

A Rights Based Approach

Partly as a result o the social model, disabled people
advocate a rights based approach to disability issues.
This is now becoming recognised through international
human rights law, domestic human rights legislation
such as the ADA, and Section 508 and through government
policy such as disability strategies in various
Some International examples
- UN Standard Rules on the Equalisation of
Opportunities for Disabled Persons
- A UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People is
now a likely possibility
- Various ILO Conventions

Robyn Hunt
March 2000

AccEase Ltd : Making on-line information accessible
Phone : +64 9 846 6995
Email : goliver@accease.com
Received on Thursday, 14 March 2002 03:13:38 UTC

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