Models of disability exist to provide a helpful framework which can enable us to understand the way in which people with impairments experience disability. They also provide a guide for society – especially in regards to laws, regulations and structures which are developed and impact on the lives of disabled people. Here we provide a list of definitions of the models of disability.
The spectrum model refers to the range of visibility, audibility and sensibility with which humankind works or functions. The model asserts that disability does not necessarily mean reduced spectrum of operations.
The moral model refers to the attitude that people are morally responsible for their own disability. For example, disability may be seen as a result of actions that are perceived bad as a result of the parents behaviour; if it is of congenital nature, or as a result of practicing witchcraft if not.
This attitude may also be viewed as extreme fundamentalist religious practice. Could this possibly be traced back to the hunter gatherer epoch, when a baby born with an impairment was perceived as worthless and often destroyed? Elements of this can be seen in the doctrine of Karma in Eastern religions, particularly of Indian origin.
The expert/professional model has provided a traditional response to disability issues and can be seen as a subsequence of the medical model.
Within its framework, professionals follow a process of identifying the impairment and its limitations (using the medical model), and taking the necessary action to improve the position of the person with a disability.
This has tended to produce a system in which an authoritarian, over-active service provider prescribes and acts for a passive client. The impact of this may result in a person being reduced to lab rat status.
From the view of an activist within the disability movement, it seems this model usually advocates a cure or search for an improvement, which in turn negates a person with disability’s humanity.
The sympathy/charity model portrays people with a disability as victims of circumstance who are deserving of pity. This, along with the medical model, is the model most used by non-disabled people to define and explain disability. Focusing on the impairment at the expense of the person and defining the person by their disability.
The legitimacy model seeks to view disability as a value-based determination about which explanations for the atypical are legitimate for membership in the disability category. This viewpoint allows for multiple explanations and models to be considered purposeful and the person with a disability has reached a point where their capability as a productive human being is viable.
The economic model defines disability by a person’s inability to participate in work. It also assesses the degree to which impairment affects an individual’s productivity and the economic consequences for the individual, employer and the state.
Such consequences include loss of earnings for and payment for assistance by the individual; lower profit margins for the employer; and state welfare payments. This model is directly related to the charity/sympathy model.
The empowering model allows for the person with a disability and his or her family to decide the course of their treatment and what services they wish to benefit from. This, in turn, makes the professional into a service provider whose role is to offer guidance and carry out the client’s decisions. This model “empowers” the individual to pursue his/her own goals.
The market model of disability is a minority rights and consumerist model of disability that recognises people with disabilities, and their stakeholders, as representing a large group of consumers, employees and voters.
This model looks to personal identity to define disability and empowers people to chart their own destiny in everyday life, with a particular focus on economic empowerment.
United Nations and Disability
On December 13, 2006, the UN formally agreed on the convention of human rights for people living with a Disability. It is the first human rights treaty of the 21st century to protect and enhance the rights and opportunities of the world's estimated 650 million disabled people.
As of April 2011, 99 of the 147 signatories had ratified the Convention. Countries that sign are required to adopt national laws and remove old ones, so that persons with disabilities will, for example, have equality to education, employment and cultural life; the right to own and inherit property; to not be discriminated against in marriage; and not be unwilling subjects in medical experiments.
In 1976, the UN launched its International Year for Disabled Persons (IYDP-1981) which was later re-named The International Year of Disabled Persons. The UN Decade of Disabled Persons (1983–1993) featured a World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons. In 1979, Frank Bowe was the only person with a disability representing any country in the planning of IYDP-1981.
Today, many countries have named representatives who are themselves individuals with disabilities. The decade was closed in an address before the General Assembly by Robert Davila. Both Bowe and Davila have a hearing impairment. In 1984, UNESCO accepted the use of sign language in education of children and young people with hearing impairments.
Raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with disabilities. Foster respect for the rights and dignity of disabled people. Combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to disabled people, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life; and promote awareness of the capabilities and contributions of disabled people.
Written by Peter McAllister