Written by Ian Loynes
I should say that I am writing my ‘Diary of A Public Transport Virgin’ from a Social Model of Disability perspective.
SCIL’s website has a section about what the Social Model is, but in summary, I find the following paragraph describes the philosophy well:
“It is not my individual impairments which disable me; what actually disables me is the way that society fails to acknowledge or meet my needs, and constructs barriers which limits or prevents my equal participation. Disability is therefore a form of social oppression.”
Conversely, a traditional ‘Medical Model’ approach might take the perspective of trying to improve my condition so that I can (for instance) walk, or even be ‘cured’, and if this is not possible expect me to put up with ‘my lot’. Other medical model solutions might include ‘special’ provision which segregates me from the mainstream; for instance in this context, ‘Dial-a-Ride’ minibuses specially provided just for Disabled People, because ‘normal’ minibuses have steps.
I find the Social Model of Disability, far more empowering and liberating than the Medical Model, as it focuses on the BARRIERS which prevent my equal participation in society. Barriers can and should be removed, and society should accept me for who I am, rather than expecting me to change (or be cured) in order to be included. In the example above, the Social Model solution to public transport would simply be to design buses that were accessible for Disabled People, rather than providing segregated or ‘special’ buses.
Disabled People’s Organisations, like SCIL, have also pointed out that Social Model solutions are normally less expensive that Medical Model solutions. Surely, for instance it would be ‘cheaper’ to make minor changes to bus design, than to provide a very expensive parallel service for those you cannot use the ‘normal’ service?.
That’s not to say that medical issues are not a barrier as well; I for instance experience a lot of pain in my life, which is caused by my impairment. Pain can be a big barrier to my life, which I limit the impact of with pain killers (medical solutions are important to me, providing I am in control of when and how they are used).
However, a Medical Model philosophy prescribes medical solutions as the only way forward. Therefore if you cannot be ‘cured’ of whatever your impairments are then you just have to put up with your life. My limited life is my problem, says the Medical Model. Many Disabled People tell horrific stories of being forced to struggle to walk, or to use artificial limbs to enable them to walk and ‘live’ in the world; rather than just accepting them for who they are and to alter society to meet their needs.
I will therefore structure this the diary from a Social Model perspective, looking at barriers; be they physical, attitudinal or policy based.