The Social Model of Disability

Possability People believes in the social model of disability, and that disabled people are not limited by what their bodies can or can't do, but by the barriers of society that prevent them from doing things.

Our work is based on the social model of disability. The social model, as it is known, emphasises that disabled people are disabled not by limitations of bodies and minds but by social barriers of unequal access, prejudice, discrimination, and social exclusion.

“The disabled people’s movement in Britain uses the term “disability” not to mean impairment but to refer to the disabling barriers of prejudice, discrimination, and social exclusion” – Jenny Morris 1988.

Separating out “impairment” (that is, the functional limitations of bodies and minds) from “disability” (that is, the disabling barriers of unequal access and negative attitudes) is the cornerstone of what is known as the social model of disability. This has enabled disabled people to challenge the assumption that impairment is an inevitable tragedy which can only be alleviated by cure or death.

The quality of disabled peoples lives, and life chances, are not inevitably determined by what peoples bodies can’t do, or look like, or how minds function. We therefore need to separate out “impairment”—the characteristics of our bodies and minds—from the way other people and society generally react to impairment.

Prejudice, discrimination, services which disempower and segregate us; a failure to use resources to create accessible environments, to use technology to aid communication, to provide personal assistance to aid daily living, and so on—these are the disabling barriers that disabled people experience.

People with physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments, and people with mental health problems, are therefore disabled by the society in which we live. We therefore use the term “disabled people” to describe what is done to them.

This language takes the focus away from impairments being the problem and puts the responsibility onto the society in which we live.