The Disability Resources Department at Lane Community College has embraced a social model approach to working with students with disabilities. This has involved making a conscious shift over the past few years from a more traditional medical model of service-delivery to one which incorporates disability culture into the department's tone, attitudes and beliefs.
Models of Disability
Historically, disability has been viewed through the lens of a medical model. Disability has been defined in terms of a dysfunction or pathology, something that needs to be "cured" or "fixed" so that the individual can be as "normal" as possible. As a result, those with disabilities have often been seen in a negative light: lacking, less-than-whole, inferior to those who do not have a disability, even tragic. The approach taken to accommodate disabilities has been to retrofit buildings and provide "special" services in order to meet legal obligations.
There's been a growing movement nationally to make a shift away from a medical model to a social model approach, which takes a different perspective. A social model sees disability as a result of the interaction between individuals who have disabilities and their environment—along with its social practices. Where there are few barriers, there are few limitations.
A social model looks beyond disability, acknowledging that there are individual differences, and examines all of the factors that affect an individual's ability to interact fully as an equal participant in society. These individual differences become part of the diversity that individuals with disabilities bring to our campus.
A social model perspective challenges us to work collaboratively with students, who are the experts regarding their disability, to design options that provide sustainable and inclusive access for all students to fully participate in the learning environment and campus community.
The chart and diagram below present a couple of ways to represent the key differences between medical model and social model perspectives.
(Developed bt Carol J. Gill, of the Chicago Institute of Disability Research. Info adapted from University of Arizona and other resources)
The Medical Model (Richard Rieser, Director of World of Inclusion Ltd. London)