Talk is a short film that was created by the UK Disability Rights Commission. The Disability Rights Commission also helped to develop the Social Model of Disability, which states that the society in which we live disables people with impairments, excluding them by way of attitudinal, physical, and organizational barriers which are seen as normal. In other words, the systems and infrastructure of the world were created by able-bodied people, for able-bodied people. This results in the exclusion and marginalization of people with impairments. The buildings at Queen’s, for example, were not built with the thought that people with disabilities were capable of attending university. As a result, accessibility is an afterthought – something that can be added if the funds are found. Even buildings that claim to be accessible are characterized by elevators that break down every few weeks or are at the end of dark, uninviting hallways. Talk puts an interesting twist on the disabling nature of a society created for able-bodied people.
The Social Model of Disability differs from the Medical Model, which understands disability as an individual problem (as opposed to systemic) – it regards the difficulties that people with impairments face as consequences of the way their bodies are shaped and experienced. The Medical Model leads to ‘compensations’ for the things that are ‘wrong’ with a person’s body. For example, ‘special needs’ services which enforce the exclusion and segregation of people with impairments from able-bodied society. In this case, the impairment is seen as a given, a constant factor that must come between a person and the society in which they attempt to interact. Overcoming the huge barriers of this model requires restructuring of the social and physical environment, as theorized by the Social Model.
If a person cannot use the stairs to an upper level because they are in a wheel chair, this should not mean they cannot use the upper space – a ramp, stair lift or elevator must be provided.
This PDF gives a really great, more in-depth look at the two models. There’s also an interesting discussion of language towards the end, starting on page 18.