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What is a Disability?

“Disability” is difficult to define. It has different meanings in different cultures and communities. Therefore people use models to help define it. Models are helpful to disability rights activists. They help us see both how our society sees disability and how we should see disability.
Models were first used during the first major disability rights movement when a wheelchair user, Mike Oliver, described the difference between the social model and the medical model in his book “The Politics of Disablement”
Disabled people are disabled by medical conditions
Disabled people are disabled by barriers in society
For disabled people to be equals in society disabled people need to be “cured”
For disabled people to be equals in society, society needs to change
Disability is an abnormality
Disability is a natural different in humanity
The disability is a problem with the disabled person
The disability is a problem with society
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Most disabled people prepare the social model to the medical model
There are models that are less commonly used. Examples include:
Charity/Pity Model
The charity model is a branch of the medical model. It is also called the pity model. In the charity model, people have disabilities and these are problems. Good people without disabilities should feel pity for these people and inspired by their achievements, even something small that is not impaired by one’s disability or disabilities.
Language used: Person first, normal/abnormal, able-bodied, handicapped, suffering from [disability], special needs, special
Eugenics Model
In the eugenics model, people have desirable and undesirable characteristics that are caused by genetics. People are either fit meaning they have genetically desirable characteristics or unfit meaning that they have genetically undesirable characteristics. Disabled people are usually categorised as “unfit”. The goal of eugenics is that efforts should be made to ensure that “unfit” people no longer exist.
Language used: Person first, normal/abnormal, fit, unfit, desirable/undesirable, Darwinism, survival of the fittest, evolution
Diversity Model
The diversity model could be considered a response to the eugenics model. In the diversity model, impairments and disability is a normal part of human existence and genetic variation.
Language used: Identity first, [genetic] variation, diversity, neurodiversity, identity
Economic Model
In the economic model, disability is defined by one’s ability to work.
Minority/Radical Model
The minority model is a branch of the social model. In the radical model, disability is a political construction. Disabled people are marginalised demographic (like women, BIPOC people, LGBT+ people etc) who should organise themselves intersectionally to fight against systems of oppression. Disabled people do not need to be cured or receive charity. Disabled people should seek justice, not rights.
Language used: Identity first, social justice, intersectionality, neurodiversity, reclaimed slurs such as r*tard and cr*pple
Professional/Expert Model
In the professional model, the only expects on disability are medical professionals and they are responsible for all decision made about disabled people. Disabled people should submit passively to their demands and only communicate to them via an abled advocate.
Language used: Person first, expert on [disability], normal/abnormal, special needs
Religious Model
The religious model is interesting because it can be used to portray disability in both a positive and negative light. On one hand, disability can be caused by punishment for a deity or karma in a past life. On the other hand, disabled people could be considered close to one’s religious being punished for it on earth rather than in the afterlife and the believe that suffering makes people closer to God/god(s).

Types of Disability

Different disabilities created different barriers. Therefore we have a different types of disabilities. Some examples of types of disability include:

chronic illness
invisible illness
sensory disabilities

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