The Social Model of Disability

At present disabled people do not have the same opportunities or choices as non-disabled people. Nor do they enjoy equal respect or full inclusion in society on an equal basis.

The poverty, disadvantage and social exclusion experienced by many disabled people, results from social structures and attitudes, rather than from a person’s impairment or medical condition. This is known as the ‘Social Model of Disability’.

The social model of disability says that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives.

The Social Model was developed by disabled people in opposition to what became known as the ‘Medical Model of Disability’.

The key difference between the two models is the location of the ‘problem’.

In the medical model, disabled people are unable to participate in society as a direct result of their impairment.

A social model approach states that people with impairments are disabled by physical and social barriers.

The social model makes the important distinction between 'impairment' and 'disability'.

It follows that if disabled people are to be able to join in mainstream society, the way society is organised must be changed.

Removing the barriers which exclude (disabled) people who have impairments can bring about this change.

To conclude, under the social model, a person who has an impairment is disabled not because of the impairment, but because of the attitudes of society, and poorly constructed physical and social environments.

These are all problems that can be resolved.


An injury, illness, or congenital condition that causes or is likely to cause a long term effect on physical appearance and / or limitation of function within the individual that differs from the commonplace.


The loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in society on an equal level with others, due to social and environmental barriers. Disability is shown as being caused by 'barriers' or elements of social organisation which take no or little account of people who have impairments.

Barriers can be:

• Prejudice and stereotypes
• Inflexible organisational procedures and practices
• Inaccessible information
• Inaccessible buildings; and,
• Inaccessible transport

Disability Powys aim to remove these barriers and make changes in society