UHAS shortens our gap of ambiguity we have

UHAS 2122

Lecturer: Dr. Siti Rokiah Siwok

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How does one define disability? Is it the inability to walk that keeps a person who uses a wheelchair from entering a building or the stairs that keeps a wheelchair user from entering the building?
The social model of disability is a concept that discusses that the disabling barrier is indeed the stairs and a ramp is all a wheelchair user needs for an equal footing with ordinary users. Unfortunately, even in this technologically-advanced contemporary world, we are disappointingly lacking in accommodating facilities for the disabled due to the mind-set of the medical model of disability that still lingers in the orthodox society. Authorities lack awareness and not mindful of the disabled and their needs when designing a particular product or infrastructure thus, only taking the needs of the majority into consideration. 
However, the cause of this unsympathetic traditional mind-set of medical model may not be intentional due to simple social norms and ignorance of a better but unpopular model of disability such as this social model of disability which is the selected topic for this report. This model shortens our gap of ambiguity we have for the needs of people with disability and also provide a guideline on the proper etiquette towards them.
If given the proper introduction and awareness of the many different types of model of disability to people, a sure possibility that they are willing to adopt the social model and start making helpful physical adjustments for people with disability. Despite the improvement, a problem still stands which is the needs of people with hidden disability are still not being clearly understood and dealt with properly. The only consolation is that the social model emphasises that the requisite of the people with be it physical or hidden disability should be determined by them, themselves and should be respected by people without disability unconditionally.


2.1 A Brief History of Social Model of Disability
The social model surfaced from the intellectual and political arguments of the Union of Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS). This network was formed after Paul Hunt,  a former resident of the Lee Court Cheshire Home, who wrote to The Guardian newspaper in 1971, suggested that a consumer group of disabled residents of institutions should be formed. Hunt worked closely with Vic Finkelstein, a South African psychologist which had thorough experience as he was exiled to Britain due to his participation of anti-apartheid activities and had promising ability to further strengthen UPIAS and its ideology. UPIAS was a small, hardcore group of disabled people, inspired by Marxism, who rejected the liberal and reformist campaigns of more mainstream disability organisations such as the Disablement Income Group and the Disability Alliance. According to their policy statement, the aim of UPIAS was to replace segregated facilities with opportunities for people with impairments to participate fully in society, to live independently, to undertake productive work, and to have full control over their own lives. In 1983, Mike Oliver who joined the team quickly adopted the structural approach to understanding disability, and was the one to introduce the term “social model of disability”.

2.2 Main Concept of Social Model of Disability
The social model doesn’t regard that disability as a problem for society but instead find the proper and strategic place for it in the work organization. In the aim to do so, the social model first drew a distinct line to separate the terms “impairment” and “disability” where the first having the definition of one’s permanent limitation in terms of mental, motor and sensory functions and the latter being the constraint given by society be it social or infrastructure that immobilises the chances of people with disabilities to actively take part in interactions with society.

Figure 2 is able to demonstrate the workings of the social model of shifting the blame from people with disability towards the society instead. The circle that encircles the individual in Figure 2 is synonym to the society whereas the barriers represent;
• medical model of disability stigma, 
• insufficient of beneficial education for people with disabilities for their present and future use, 
• prejudice and stereotype in employment that people with disability are not efficient employees
• inconvenient public transportation that was designed and built with needs of the majority in mind,
• insensitive environment where favouritism towards whole people as they are given priority and chance to excel in life,
• difficult-to-attain information (for the people with eyesight disability)
• undermining values and talents of people with disability by society

Next, the social model then gives full attention on the means and changes necessary in society that will lift all the “disability” that society in the first place had exerted on people with disabilities or if referred to Figure 2, the barriers. The changes are in terms of;
• providing extra social support for employees with special needs; for example carrying out a buddy system which takes form in a sign language interpreter for deaf and mute employees
• making sure information is presented in variable formats such as Braille that is readable by all type of users, either be people with eyesight disability-friendly or not
• infrastructure that does not restrict the movements of a wheelchair user such as elevators and ramps
• providing flexible working hours for those that may have mental disabilities such as insomnia or circadian rhythm sleep disorders
• changing the perspective and mind-set that people of disability is enable to stand equal with other members of society 

Nowadays, social model of disability is widely used in disability studies where medical practitioners and psychiatrist have been referring to the experience and point of view of people with disabilities to improve their community welfare and treatment.

2.3 Terminologies Used in Social Model of Disability
The words we use in our daily conversations (verbal) or in our writing (non-verbal) have profound influence and effects to others. To people with disabilities, the inaccurate terminologies used to describe them might due to ignorance thus it being unintentional but nonetheless still very hurtful, whereas to society, when one starts to use them, more will follow as all of them are not very well-versed in the suitable terminologies.  The long-term effect of incorrect use of terminologies is further degrade the quality of life for people with disabilities besides spreading more imprecise stereotypes. 
If researched thoroughly on the internet, an increasing number of community that voices out for people with disabilities such as Western Cape Government and People with Disability Australia (PWDA). These communities heavily urge the often practical use of ‘person first language’ which actually regards the importance of the person and treat their disability with indifference as it poses no significance. Furthermore, inferior or condescending phrases to discuss about people with disability are to be avoided at all times. 
For example, an ignorant society would call people with mental illness “insane” or “mad” whereas the terminology that had been appointed to this condition is ‘people with psychosocial disability’.  3.0  ANALYSIS
The true nature of human beings is most of the time perceived as inherently weak, vulnerable, flawed and imperfect. However, throughout history, some shifts in thinking formed the notion of dominance in society, rooting from the concept of power and privilege and at the same time in parallel to perfection and capability. This widespread way of thinking came about as a social norm and brought humankind into a state where we recognise vulnerability in any circumstances, a condition that separates an individual from normalcy and difference is not valued. Consequently, individuals with disability, may it be physical or hidden, are marginalised. A dangerous illusion about the meaning of normality is observed as the result of transference of vulnerability and consequent dependency into disabled people.
The social model aims to change this plane of thought by claiming that the term disability as a social construct – much like the philosophical topic of sex and race that concerns the classification of people on the basis of observed or inferred characteristics – rather than a biological construct. It is a term coined by society to inflict exclusion within the mainstream of society as a result of physical, organisational and attitudinal barriers which prevent equality of opportunity in education, employment, housing, transport, leisure, etc. Regenerating the social model of disability means  to restructure our society to be more accommodating and flexible for everyone, without  anyone needing to compromise to be inclusive.
3.1  The Medical Model of Disability vs The Social Model of Disability
The first model of disability was the medical model of disability, regarding the functional analysis of the body as machine to be fixed in order to conform with normative values. According to the medical model of disability, disability is seen as a tragedy and a problem of the individual who is in need to be pitied. Disabled individuals are thought to be different to ‘what is normal’ or simply abnormal and these impairments or differences must be fixed or cured by medical professionals even when they do not subject to pain or illness. The medical model of disability is all about what a person cannot do and cannot be. Here, disability was defined as an individual problem – as what is wrong with that person, not what the person needs – and it was up to that individual to adapt to their circumstance. It creates low expectations and leads to people losing independence, choice and control in their own lives. 
In contrast, the social model of disability placed the blame on neither impairments nor illness, not even the individuals submitted to those impairments and illness. The social model deem society the main contributory factor  (purposely or inadvertently) for systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion in disabling people. This model wants people to understand that they were not at fault: society was. They did not need to change: society needed to change. They did not have to be sorry for themselves when they are not able to actively contribute or participate in the society: they could be angry. The social model promotes the idea of access by removing unnecessary barriers to create inclusion and equal opportunities in every citizen for participating in society, accessing work and living independently. As an illustration, a town would be designed with mainstream transport and infrastructure made accessible for everyone, disabled children are educated in accessible mainstream schools alongside non-disabled children, education provision is accessible to all with the same qualifications – opportunities open to all who wish to access – and products around the home are designed with accessibility in mind so that specialist products are not required. 
The social model of disability also focuses on people’s attitudes towards disability and recognises that attitudes towards disability can present barriers for disabled people in the same way the physical environment can. These attitudes are many and varied, ranging from prejudice and stereotyping, to unnecessary inflexible organisational practices and procedures and seeing disabled people as objects of pity/charity. Society needs to understand that people with disability are not objects of charity, medical treatment and social protection but subjects with rights, capable of claiming those rights, able to make decisions for their own lives based on their free and informed consent and be active members of the community. 
Psychologically, the social model gained popularity, approval and most importantly, people’s commitment based on the way it had transformed their self-esteem. Any activist in a collective group united by the social model ideology had a deep investment in the social model definition of disability. Some pointed out that the model made people view the world in black and white, even if it was not the initial intention of why the model was introduced. They see it as ‘We’ were oppressed: ‘they’ were oppressors. ‘We’ talk about disability, we do not mention impairment.
Some suggested that there is an inconsistency: the rhetoric says one thing but the others behave in a completely different way in private; sometimes talking about ‘disability’ when in strictly social model terms they talked about impairment. Jenny Morris did this by blurring the lines between impairment and disability in her book Pride Against the Prejudiced. The misuse of words is more than about its political correctness. It is about result of normalising the language and the politicisation of when it is defined.
There is a social relational nature of impairment and illness. Some people may have an illness long before they receive a diagnosis which may then constitute impairment, and others may be impaired but receive a diagnosis of illness long afterwards. C. Thomas wrote in 2001 that impairment may also become disability through the experience of “structural oppression; cultural stereotypes, attitudes, bureaucratic hierarchies, market mechanisms, and all that is dependent to how society is structured and organised.” There is currently no mechanism within the social model of disability that accounts for the variety of ways disability may be experienced.
From the feminists’ perspective, Liz Crow criticised the failure of the model to incorporate the personal experience of pain and limitation which is often a part of impairment. In 1993, Sally French wrote about the reasons for resistance to these alternative perspectives. She said that reason why disability is presented so plainly is because activists were trying to convince the public that it can be reduced or terminated. 
Hannah Arendt’s conception of power may provide the bridge between impairment and disability. It may also offer disability studies a model of theorising disability that accounts for difference without privileging impairment or disability. She believes that “Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keep together” and defines plurality both as “equality and distinction in that we are all separate individuals, this sameness in difference allows for elaboration of the complexities, contradictions and common aspects of disabled people’s experiences”, instead of incorporating them into one collective understanding that excludes aspects of each person’s experience. Arendt argues that not all disabled people experience oppression, and calls for pathways of oppression operating at both the public and personal level.
It has to be noted, however, that these views oversimplify a complex reality and each item should be seen as the polar end of a continuum. A social model perspective does not deny the reality of impairment nor its impact on the individual.  However, it does perceive impairment as a condition of diversity among society and will promote the environment of physical, attitudinal, communication and social nature to be more accommodating. What the social model mainly highlights is that it seeks to change society in order to accommodate people living with impairment; it does not seek to change persons with impairment to accommodate society.  It supports the view that people with disability have a right to be fully participative as other people would be on an equal basis with the society. Bryan Turner suggests that “bodies change over time, and function differently within fluctuating social spaces; an interactional process that constitutes the ‘whole'”. Arguing against separating the body and society he proposes societal understanding and appreciation of the embodied individual, showing a clear distinction between the social model and the medical model.

If we move the focus away from its materialistic underpinnings and use the social model, we have a more productive and communicative position from which to argue. The social model recognises that disability affects every aspect of our lives, not just our health. It shows the need for disability to be addressed at every level: social, economic and political. It must become the first key consideration when drafting plans and making decisions. 
The social model of disability has demonstrated success for disabled people in society, challenging discrimination and marginalisation, linking civil rights and political activism; enabling disabled people to claim their rightful place in society. It is therefore contended that disabled people can be proud of the fact that they are different from the majority of the population. Escaping the underlying social oppressive practices and structures that characterise some societies brings liberation from the responsibilities in the realms of sexual relations, responsibility within the domestic household, and may bring them more attuned to comprehend the oppression encountered by other minority groups.
The model demonstrates that it is possible for disabled people to inculcate and project a positive identity, thereby celebrating the diversity and richness of the lives that they invariably lead but only with collective action through solidarity and consensus in our society.