What are models of disability
Models of disability can be condensed into two main approaches: the individual approaches, which see the person as having a problem, and the social approaches, which see society as having a problem, being unable to accommodate all people.
The four main models of disability can be defined as: the charity model; the medical model; the social model and the human rights model. The first two focus on the disability of the individual as the problem whilst the other two focus on external factors that need to be changed or adapted to create an enabling environment.
Note: The charity and the medical model are outdated and shouldn't be applied anymore. To act in compliance with the CRPD, every work must be based on the social and the human rights model. So is this Inclusive Participation Toolbox.
- The charity model identifies the individual as having a problem and tends to view persons with disabilities as victims, or objects of pity, their impairment being their main identifier. They are seen as recipients and beneficiaries of services. This approach sees persons with disabilities as passive, tragic or suffering and requiring care. It assumes that it is the community and society’s responsibility to arrange all services for these vulnerable people and know what is good for them.
- The medical model also focuses on the individual and sees disability as a health condition, an impairment located in the individual. It assumes that by addressing the medical ailment this will resolve the problem. In this approach a person with disability is primarily defined as a patient, in terms of their diagnosis requiring medical intervention. Disability is seen as a disease or defect that is at odds with the norm and that needs to be fixed or cured.
- The social model was developed as a reaction against the individualistic approaches of the charity and medical models. It focuses on society and considers that the problem lies there. That due to barriers be they social, institutional, economic or political persons with disabilities are excluded. This approach focuses on reforming society, removing barriers to participation, raising awareness and changing attitudes, practice and policies.
- The rights based model is based on the social model and shares the same premise that it is society that needs to change. This approach focuses on equity and rights and looks to include all people equally within society: women and men, girls and boys regardless of background or any type of characteristic. It is founded on the principle that human rights for all human beings is an inalienable right and that all rights are applicable and indivisible. It takes the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as its main reference point and prioritises ensuring that duty bearers at all levels meet their responsibilities. This approach sees persons with disabilities as the central actors in their own lives, as decision makers, citizens and rights holders. As with the social model, it seeks to transform unjust systems and practice.