Issues in Providing Learning Support for Disabled Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

Models of Disability

Who is a disabled person?

Estimates of the number of disabled people in the UK vary with figures as high as ten million being quoted. Obviously the number of people included depends on the definition of disability. We shall look at definitions later on, particularly in relation to the Disability Discrimination Act. For many people the image conjured up by the word 'disabled person' is likely to be that of someone in a wheelchair; indeed this image is used as a symbol to denote disabled access points, parking spaces and so on. However, no more than 4-6% of the population of working age disabled people are wheelchair users. Academic staff need to be aware therefore that there will be many students who, whilst not being obviously disabled, will have less visible impairments which are nevertheless an issue when undertaking field trips. Examples of these impairments include: angina, arthritis, asthma, epilepsy, dyslexia, hearing loss, mental health problems and restricted vision.

Mention of such specific medical conditions may leave staff feeling concerned that they will be expected to develop medical expertise in order to support disabled students. This is where an understanding of different models of disability becomes important.

A medicalised model of disability sees the disabled person as subject for treatment and cure and tends to pay less attention to social, economic and environmental factors affecting the person. Whilst most people are grateful for medical interventions that counter the effects of chronic illness, various writers have pointed out that the medicalisation of disability causes a number of problems (Barnes, 1991; Oliver, 1990; Shakespeare, 1996).

Page updated 14 December 2001

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