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DEBATE: Social Model of Disability

Updated Thursday, 7th May 2015

What is the social model of disability? Does the social world exclude disabled people?

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Debate concept with two people discussing topic Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Brad Calkins | The social model of disability states that the fact that a person uses a wheelchair is not a 'problem' in itself. This only becomes problematic where the social world excludes them and has buildings with narrow doorways or flights of steps. If the world was built and designed in a way that thought about the members of the public who couldn’t walk or see or hear, as equal and valued citizens, then the built environment would reflect this.

This model does not only include expectations for a physically accessible world, but also acknowledges people might need practical or emotional support to live life independently and make a contribution to society. It states that independence does not necessarily mean you can do everything for yourself, but that you can take control of your life and choose how that life is led. The role of the Personal Assistant then becomes the vehicle whereby that control over every day routines is afforded to the person with a disability.

What are your thoughts around this? Does the social world exclude disabled people? Does having a Personal Assistant go some way towards achieving independence? Have your say in the comments section below. 

Academic Insight

Find out what our academic Janet Bardsley, Social Work Lecturer at The Open University and Co–chair of the first year practice course for social work “Foundations for Social Work” has to say on the matter. 

This debate is part of a collection produced to accompany the OU/BBC co-production Wanted: A Very Personal Assistant 




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