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  • Elizabeth

Models of Disability

As strong as I am in my pride as a disabled person, there is an inevitable shame that comes and goes, depending on what’s happening in my life. Am I asking too much of my partners? Am I needing too many accommodations? Am I just irreparably broken and damaged, better off being hidden away in my home?


Nine months ago I started seeing a therapist who specializes in disability and chronic illness. My health had once again taken a turn for the worse, and I was questioning if I would still be able to pursue my passions and live my life the way I wanted to. More than anything, I realized I needed to accept my body. I couldn’t advocate properly for myself if I didn’t love and accept who I am.


The therapist introduced me to the medical and social models of disability, which completely changed the way I looked at myself and my own disability. Every time I’ve explained these models to my friends and family, it’s completely changed the way they view disability in me, themselves, and society. Maybe it’ll help you too.


The Medical Model:

The medical model of disability labels the disability as a problem that needs to be cured, caused by the disabled person. “Normalization” is the goal. Any act of accommodation is a charity given to the disabled person. The medical model teaches me that I am broken, need to be fixed, and should be grateful whenever I am included.


The Social Model:

The social model of disability labels society’s barriers as the problem. It sees disability as just another normal condition in life, and that the true disability comes from lack of accessibility and accommodation in society. It recognizes that it is society’s responsibility to organize, accommodate, and include. It does not want to fix me, it wants to fix my world.

When I lived in the medical model, I felt broken and useless. I felt like I wasn’t trying hard enough to get better. I felt guilty for asking for help. I felt different, like an outsider, beneath the rest of society. In the medical model, the only things that matters are my diagnosis (not my abilities or my needs) and making me as “normal” as I can be.


Now, in the social model, I can ask for accommodations because they aren’t any different than anyone else’s needs. Labels don’t matter as much as the things I can do, and the things that will help me. “Trying harder” isn’t even a factor: this is who I am and how I best live.

In the medical model, society is slower to adapt and accommodate. And why shouldn’t they be? Disability is a defining negative trait, and one that must be conquered by any means necessary. If the disabled person can’t become “less disabled”, then accommodating for that in any way is going above and beyond, giving charity to someone who may not even deserve it. They just aren’t trying hard enough. They should be grateful for whatever they get.


In the social model, society adapts faster because society is the disability. It’s on our society to adapt and accommodate. When that happens, disability is no longer a factor.

I don’t need to focus on getting out of this wheelchair and walking again, as some doctors would prefer. I can focus on my strengths and talents, knowing that the best way to cultivate them is by using a mobility device, so I can concentrate on what’s important. I don’t need to try to be “normal”, because there is no normal; we are all just human. I don’t need to feel guilty about asking for accommodations, because everyone requires them in some form. Being disabled doesn’t mean my needs suddenly are a burden. I’m no longer a burden. Society is what needs to catch up. I’m just me.






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