The Medical Model v The Social Model ~ Green Party Policy Brief



Terms used

DY100 For the purposes of this policy base, the term ‘disability’ refers not to the situation of having a physical, mental or other impairment. Instead it refers to the widespread phenomenon of people being unable to do things in society specifically because society has failed to reconstruct itself (physically and culturally) in all the possible ways that would ensure that an individual’s impairments are not a barrier to their full participation.


DY200 There are currently two basic approaches to the subject of disability:

a) The medical model of disability focuses on an individual’s impairment as the root of the problem. The impairment (e.g. no use of the legs) causes the disability (e.g. inability to walk) and the result of this is handicap (reduced ability to participate fully in society).

This approach has been rejected by many disabled people; it has been almost totally defined by non-disabled people – often by administrators who define disablement in the way most suited to bureaucratic convenience, or by charities not controlled by disabled people themselves, who frequently promote an image of disabled people’s powerlessness that reinforces existing prejudice against disabled people.

This medical model of disability (or ‘charity’ model or ‘administrative’ model) has led to a general acceptance that disabled people cannot fully participate in society; and therefore that where society makes ‘special’ efforts to meet the needs of disabled people, this is a kindness on the part of non-disabled society for which disabled people must be grateful. Disabled people are seen as incomplete people to be regarded as tragic objects of charity whose aim in life is ‘to overcome their handicap’ and be as much like a non-disabled person as possible.

b)The social model of disability focuses on society’s response to impairments as the root of the problem. A person has an impairment, and society, by failing to take into account the needs of such a person, disables that person. If this person cannot, for example, enter a certain building or get on a bus, it is not fundamentally their own impairment that is the problem, but rather the way in which the building and the bus have been designed – unreasonably excluding some people.

Similarly, people with intellectual impairments are disabled by segregation from the rest of society, which restricts their opportunities to learn a whole range of skills, including social skills, that are normally developed through interaction with others.

This model of disability widens the definition to include people living with long-term mental health problems, who are also socially disabled and marginalised. It also includes people with temporary impairments, such as a broken leg, who encounter many of the same obstacles as people with permanent impairments.

According to the social model of disability, notwithstanding the fact that individuals’ personal experience of their impairments may be negative and in some cases painful or hindering, society as a whole has created disability because it has failed to take into account the needs of people with impairments. It is non-disabled society that has created the barriers to full social equality for people with impairments, and it is non-disabled economists and politicians who tell us that ‘we’ cannot afford the cost of removing those barriers. Disability is a human rights issue; and human rights are not to be denied some people by the oppressive fiscal calculations of others.

The social model approach demands an integrated society. This does not just mean integrating disabled people into a non-disabled world; it means re-defining society according to the perspectives of all people, not just the non-disabled.

This understanding of disability has been growing stronger in recent years, and is the only approach acceptable to the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People.

Principles and policies

DY300 The Green Party rejects the medical model of disability and accepts the social model:

a)that disability is a social phenomenon;

b)that while many individuals have physical or sensory impairments or learning difficulties or are living with mental health problems, it is the way society responds to these which creates disability;

c)that disability is a form of oppression.

DY301 The medical model will not be invoked with reference to ‘disability’ but will be utilised only in the assessment of impairments as part of the process of meeting an individual’s desired (or, in restricted cases, perceived) need to receive support etc. and for the purposes of defining the ‘disabling’ factors in society that are to be reconstructed.

DY302 The Green Party aims to help deconstruct disablement as a form of oppression; to assist the enablement of people whom society has previously disabled. This will be achieved through various policies which may be categorised as educational, environmental, social and political.

An enabling education system

DY400 Research has shown that prejudice against disabled people can be greatly worsened by segregated schooling. To segregate children with impairments or difficulties for any reason, when provision is potentially available in an all ability setting, is a breach of human rights. Moreover it helps inculcate prejudice in non-disabled children. The Green Party will therefore introduce the following policies for an all-ability education system:

a)Impairment will not be an acceptable reason for excluding a child from a school to which they would otherwise be entitled to admission. This means that, whilst there will be no compulsory integration of individuals (or abolition of ‘special schools’), all schools will be deemed to be all-ability schools. Schools will have a statutory duty to provide for the needs of any child, wherever this can be achieved without disadvantaging other children; the presumption will be that a child’s needs can be met in that school. And government will have a duty to provide fully adequate funding for the purpose. Children will be entitled to take legal action against any school which seeks to deny this right. Children and schools will have the right to take legal action against the Government for failing to provide the necessary funding.

Where children with emotional and behavioural difficulties are concerned, a balance must be struck between their educational needs and their present emotional needs; and also between their own needs and the needs of the people around them. However, research and practise has shown that children with emotional and behavioural difficulties do not need to be permanently segregated from others.

b)Similar principles will apply to all other educational establishments, so that practical difficulties and institutionalised prejudice will not be allowed to deny a person their right to an education using impairment as an excuse.

DY401 Public awareness of the level of oppression of disabled people must be raised through a public awareness campaign to be devised jointly with disabled peoples’ groups.

An enabling environment

DY500 Currently, our built environment is one of the principal means by which society disables people. On taking office, the Green Party will require all central and local government bodies to instigate immediately the necessary structural and other modifications to all their buildings, so that these buildings do not reasonably exclude people with impairments.

DY501 Building regulations will be radically overhauled with accessibility in mind, including visitors’ access, access to public buildings, access to work premises, entertainment and sports, etc. Associated social measures will also be taken to open up previously inaccessible locations and activities to people with impairments.

DY502 A comprehensive plan for fully accessible transport will be implemented, so that public transport will be usable by all members of the public. In addition, the necessary arrangements will be made to meet any extra reasonable transportation needs of disabled people beyond that which can be provided through general services.

Social and political enablement

DY600 Comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation of the highest standard will be introduced, along with the necessary means of implementing it.

DY601 An end to the oppression of disabled people can only be achieved under the guidance of disabled people themselves. Therefore an Enablement Commission will be established as an independent body for monitoring progress made in this area. It will be established as an independent body for monitoring progress made in this area. It will be made up of disabled people and will be accorded rights and powers such that it can allow disabled people themselves to define their own reasonable needs and ensure that these needs are met. It will receive complaints against breaches of anti-discrimination legislation, and against this legislation itself, should the latter be found wanting. It will be fully involved in the preparation of new legislation. It will have a wide-ranging, often proactive role in the deconstruction of the social phenomena of disability

The Green Party


4 thoughts on “The Medical Model v The Social Model ~ Green Party Policy Brief

  1. steve davies says:

    Some great and positive words but can they be turned into actions. However this is a fresh approach and may incorporate disability far more than main stream parties

  2. DAVID A SHAW says:

    You know politics in this country are in real trouble when the only sense being talked is by the green party, and this is not meant to be taken with offence. Compare this article to the things we hear from the disgusting coalition fascists, and the things we do not hear from the Labour party.

  3. Chris Pampling says:

    I would like to know where long-term sickness fits into this. It seems that the chronically sick have been dumped and this probably happened when the social model of disability took precedence over the medical model. Some of us are ill. This illness limits our participation in everyday life. However, we are not disabled in the common sense of the word: we are ill, whether that illness is terminal or merely life-limiting is irrelevant. We need to be allowed to be ill, not to be treated as malfunctioning cogs in a wheel. I would like to see at least one of the parties acknowledging that illness exists at least!

  4. Sue Brock says:

    I have a problem with seemingly having to chose between the social model and the medical model. I can see how the medical model has limited many people and certainly created attitudes in society which are not desirable. The social model however fails to take into account that sometimes segregation both at school and in the work place is desirable. My son for example (no matter what was put in place to help him) would never have coped in a mainstream school. IN fact it was after having had a breakdown at age 9 in a very small, one class per year primary school, that he ended up in a speialist school. Here they had various “services” on tap and class sizes of about 5 to 7 pupils. My sons sensory issues etc could be coped with here. He could leave the class at will. He could hide behind the curtain during assembly or sit just outside the door. But the whole school only had approx 45 pupils. None of this could have been achieved in the primary school my other son went to of 650 pupils. And my other sons secondary school has 1500 pupils!

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