Most of us are taught, either directly or indirectly, that disabled people are best supported by providing individual help for their specific impairment. This idea is part of what is referred to as the medical model of disability. The medical model frames disability as something lacking in an individual, for example a person who is unable to hear, which should be “corrected”, perhaps by a cochlear implant to allow them to process sounds, in order for them to assimilate into society. This model puts all of the responsibility on the disabled individual to find help, request accommodations, access support networks, etc, and absolves society of any responsibility to help. This way of thinking about disability pushes disabled people to the fringes and creates significant hardship for those individuals.
There is another option. The social model of disability puts the responsibility on society. It says that while individuals may have impairments or differences, it is the responsibility of society to make society accessible to everyone. To use the example of someone who cannot hear, rather than forcing the individual to modify themselves to fit in with society, the social model of disability calls for society to make changes like teaching sign language from a young age, offering sign language interpreters, integrating visual cues such as warning lights and written signs along with audio announcements. This way of viewing disability puts the responsibility on society and centers those with impairments and disabilities. Rather than adding hardship onto the shoulders of those most strongly affected, it allows for the creation of equitable spaces where everyone can be part of society, no matter their physical or mental capabilities.
The FM Accommodations Crew encourages you to integrate the social model of disability into your own way of viewing the world. Next time you go to a store, consider if it would be accessible for someone who needs a mobility aid such as a walker or wheelchair, and if it isn’t, consider how it could be made accessible. Pay attention to the sensory landscape. Is there loud music playing? Are there flashing lights? Consider speaking to a manager at the store and encouraging them to make the building more accessible by adding a ramp, turning music down or off, or removing flashing lights. Many solutions are small and easily made by the store, but are huge to disabled and neurodivergent individuals. We as individuals may not be able to change the world, but a few minutes talking to a stranger may make the world a bit more equitable for our community.