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Accessibility of eLearning
Accessibility of eLearning

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1.2.1 The social and medical models of disability

Described image
Figure 3 Four symbols used to represent disabilities

There are several models used to describe the approaches individuals and organisations take towards disabled people in general. The two most widely used are the social model and the medical model.

The definition of the medical (or individual) model

… locates the ‘problem’ of disability within the individual and … sees the causes of this problem as stemming from the functional limitations or psychological losses which are assumed to arise from disability.

(Oliver, 1990)

In the medical model the barriers exist because of people’s impairments. In contrast, the social model describes disability as …

… all the things that impose restrictions on disabled people; ranging from individual prejudice to institutional discrimination, from inaccessible public buildings to unusable transport systems, from segregated education to excluding work arrangements, and so on.

(Oliver, 1990)

In other words it is society that disables people who have impairments (an impairment is defined as any loss or abnormality of physiological, psychological or anatomical structure or function (WHO, in Wood (1980)). The social model was developed in the context of disabled people campaigning for change in societal attitudes. The model focuses on the need for society to change policy and attitudes as well as eliminate economic discrimination against disabled people.

In reality, although we lean towards the social model more than the medical model, neither is a perfect fit for our approach to creating accessible eLearning. We should adopt the social model approach that an impairment only becomes a disability when society does not adequately cater for that impairment, and by extension, therefore, that eLearning material should be created to permit access by individuals with all kinds of impairment, but we should not forget that other factors will interplay when it comes to disabled people interacting with our materials.