1.3 Disability

What is disability?

It is helpful to understand what the term disability means and appreciate the sensitivity of the term and the range of associated feelings that learners and families may have. For example, some autistic people are very clear that they do not wish to be viewed as disabled, even if they may meet the criteria highlighted below.

A person has a disability according to the Equality Act 2010 if he or she has a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

This means that, in general:

  • the person must have an impairment that is either physical or mental
  • the impairment must have adverse effects which are substantial
  • the substantial adverse effects must be long-term
  • the long-term substantial adverse effects must be effects on normal day-to-day activities.

All of the factors above must be considered when determining whether a person is disabled.

Disability models

There are a number of ‘models’ of disability which have been defined over recent years. The two which are most frequently discussed and commonly used are the ‘social’ and the ‘medical’ models of disability; other models have evolved and developed from these two models. This module and the Toolbox focuses on these models.

Activity 2

  1. Watch the Social Model of Disability [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and the Social Model Animation which illustrate the social model of disability.
  2. In your Reflective Log, consider the questions:
    • a. In your setting, what barriers are experienced by learners who are disabled?
    • b. What adjustments can be made to ensure that learners with disabilities are able to participate in all aspects of your setting?

The social model of disability and the Scottish context for education support the vision for inclusion in Scotland for all our learners, both disabled and non-disabled. Anticipatory thought is given to how disabled people can participate in activities on an equal footing with non-disabled people. Certain adjustments are made, even where this involves time or money, to ensure that disabled people are not excluded. For example, ensuring buildings, the curriculum and communications are accessible.

In terms of autism, the social and medical models overlap. While no support should be diagnosis dependent and should be timeously provided, understanding of support needs can be enhanced by diagnosis. Section 2 of this module provides an opportunity to explore the Scottish ‘needs led’ system, in which all children and young people are entitled to support with or without a diagnosis.

Research evidence from diagnosed individuals and families indicate a preference for timely diagnosis. The reality is that diagnosis helps with access to the most relevant information and support now and in the future.

Please note that education staff in Scottish educational establishments do not assess and determine if an autistic learner has a disability. This is usually done by health colleagues and should be in partnership with the family and the educational setting.

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