Disability is a broad term that covers a range of challenges, including sensory issues, learning differences, mental health conditions, physical differences, and chronic health problems. It’s essential to acknowledge that everyone might face some form of barrier in their lifetime.

The models of disability help us understand how society defines and talks about disability. There are four main models we will discuss: the medical model, the charity model, the social model, and the celebratory model.


1. Medical Model

The medical model sees disability as a problem within the individual. It focuses on the diagnosis or condition and often suggests that people are disabled by their differences.

In this model, medical professionals, like doctors or consultants, decide what someone can or cannot do based on their diagnosis.

This model aims to ‘fix’ or change the individual to help them fit into society.

It can limit a person’s independence and control over their life. For instance, if someone uses a wheelchair and can’t walk, the medical model would blame the individual instead of seeing the lack of ramp access as the real issue.

2. Charity Model

The charity model is similar to the medical model but with a more compassionate tone.

It often portrays disabled people as victims who need help from non-disabled people. The focus is on finding cures or treatments, placing the non-disabled person at the centre of attention and power.

For example, people might say, “We need to find a cure for them because they can’t live like this!” This model can also lead to assumptions that disabled people always need help, without asking them first.

3. Social Model

The social model was created by disabled people and shifts the focus from the individual to society.

It sees disability as a result of societal barriers, like physical, attitudinal, informational, and communication barriers.

For example, if someone can’t enter a building because of steps at the entrance, the social model suggests adding a ramp. The problem isn’t with the individual; it’s the building’s lack of accessibility.

4. Celebratory Model

Diversity and Ability, an award-winning social enterprise led by and for disabled people, developed the Celebratory Model.

This model celebrates the diversity of disabling experiences and acknowledges that everyone has unique needs.

It aims to include everyone by asking questions like, “What do you need to thrive?” and “What adjustments can we make for you?”

By focusing on the social and celebratory models, we can make real changes in disabled people’s lives.

One way to do this is by introducing reasonable adjustments to remove or minimise barriers. These adjustments might include:

  • Changing the layout or lighting in the workplace
  • Introducing assistive technology like dictation or text-to-speech software
  • Offering flexible working patterns
  • Providing workplace mentoring support

What next?

Instead of focusing solely on an individual’s diagnosis, we should look at the barriers society creates for disabled individuals. By actively working to remove these barriers, we can encourage authentic inclusion, participation, and equal opportunities for everyone.

Mix, in collaboration with Diversity and Ability, have created a series of online learning modules to support inclusion in the workplace – contact us to find out more.

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Further reading

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