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

Models of Disability

A social model of disability

In contrast to (and in reaction to) these disempowering approaches to disability, a number of disability activists and disabled academics have developed a social model of disability. From this perspective disability is seen as a form of oppression. In the same way that women, people from ethnic groups and gay people have been held back by a society that cannot cope with diversity, disabled people form another disadvantaged group. The focus shifts from what is 'wrong' with an individual, to the barriers that prohibit their participation in mainstream activities. At a very simple level this can be in the barriers faced by a wheelchair user when trying to access a building that can only be approached via a flight of steps. However, barriers exist at many levels beyond the environmental e.g. attitudinal, social, economic and political. Disability theorists point out that societies tend to be organised on the basis of assumptions of what is 'normal' (Finkelstein, 1993; Oliver, 1990). Those who do not fit the stereotype will find it difficult to participate. Rather than trying to make disabled people 'normal', the social model of disability asserts that society needs to recognise and celebrate difference. From this have arisen campaigns for civil rights not charity. Definitions used in the literature, reflect this approach distinguishing between 'impairment' and 'disability':

(UPIAS, 1976)

Page updated 14 December 2001

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