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Models for Understanding Disability

Different perspectives affect how people understand or think about disability and these are a few of the most common models of disability. There are a number of them and they can vary in definition, so this is a very high-level overview.

For a more in-depth look at models of disability and how they impact disabled people, read the book Demystifying Disability by author and disability rights activist, Emily Ladau.

  • Charity Model: depicts disabled people as tragic stories or victims of circumstance who are deserving of pity. This is very common in modern media where a disabled person is seen as a source of inspiration for "overcoming" their disability.
  • Cultural Model: this model centers the experience of people with disabilities and the history and culture of the disabled community.
  • Economic Model: defines disability by a person's inability to participate in work and assesses the degree to which a disability affects an individual's productivity and the economic consequences for the individual, employer, and the economy as a whole.
  • Human Rights Model: through this model, disability is seen as a human rights issue and seeks to address the issues of social justice and discrimination that disabled people face through inclusive legislature.
  • Medical Model: disability is perceived as an impairment in a body system or function that is inherently pathological. With this model, the goal is to return the system or function to as close to “normal” as possible.
  • Moral Model: disability is seen as the results of one's character, deeds, thoughts, and karma and carries a negative stigma as if disability is a curse or a punishment. Alternatively, disability can also be seen as a sign of honor, faith, or strength through this model.
  • Social Model: disability is seen as one aspect of a person’s identity, much like race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc. From this perspective, disability is believed to result from a mismatch between the disabled person and the environment. Therefore, it is this environment or society that creates the inaccessibility, not the disability.

Additional Resources and Reading

Want to learn a little more about disability and digital accessibility? Check out the links below!