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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

A guest blogger

Guest blogging: it's not just for Ouch any more!

Although it is connected to Ouch. B Dude Esq has been so exercised by the recent discussions on the Ouch weblog re models of disability that he found himself generating a comment which - alas! - was too lengthy for the BBC's IT mavens to process.

Some money having changed hands, I have generously (and of my own free will) agreed to host the comment on mine own blog. And here it is:


The social model is not about helping anyone. It is an entirely passive way of describing an understanding of what equality means.

There is no such thing as “the medical model” either.

Are you ready for a potted history? Here we go then…

(NB Please be aware that the following is intended to be an “artistic impression” rather than a historically accurate account adhering to a rigid time-line.)

Once upon a time, there were no disabled people, no models and no such thing as equality. You lived in a cave, you hunted if you could, you mated if you could attract a partner and if, for whatever reason you were not fit, athletic or simply gorgeous enough to succeed, you died.

As society developed and formalised, things changed a bit. Rather than nature simply taking its course and weeding out the useless, opinions were formed by others about these poor unfortunates who were not “like us”. People who were not physically or mentally “normal” were cripples or invalids, handicapped by their inability to function in mainstream society and therefore, depending on their level of dysfunction, to be:

- Pitied and, if they were lucky, given charity through some kind souls’ altruism or because they were pesky beggars;
- Segregated – locked away from public view, often treated less well than captive animals, sometimes ridiculed as freaks but always considered subnormal; or
- Eliminated as “messy eaters” or for other “valid” reasons, either to purify the gene pool or because they were embarrassing examples of God’s apparent failure or of demonic success.

Similarly, homosexuality was an immoral perversion, along with BDSM, onanism and, in some cases simply taking pleasure in sex. Women were chattels, entirely the property of men. Black people had smaller brains than us and were little better than animals; definitely a different and inferior species.

There were no words, theories or models to explain these behaviours. They simply existed, were the norm and what every right-thinking person believed.

Gradually, some enlightened individuals began to wonder if the superiority of the White Anglo-Saxon Male was not an entirely satisfactory way of viewing the world. And some philanthropic souls started to apply charity more liberally to those who had been previously treated as sub-human. They pitied those less fortunate than themselves who, through no fault of their own, had been born with deficiencies such as bodily dysfunction, perverted sexuality, non-Caucasian features or the wrong gender. Needless to say, there was a very strong backlash also amongst those who wished to preserve the status-quo, improve the gene pool or simply keep their sons and daughters safe from these disturbing abominations.

There were no words or models to explain this either. It just happened.

[…Fast Forward…]

And then, in the mid-to-late twentieth century, once the general concept of equality was beginning to take root in western society, some bright spark(s) said “Hey, if equality exists and is to be meaningful, society at large has to take account of diversity”, which is to say that nobody is “normal” but that we each have our own unique identity comprising who we are, what we are like, where we were born, how we were brought up, what we believe etc.

So the disabled people’s movement was born, along with the suffragettes, black power, gay lib etc…

Then the disabled people’s movement came up with a way of describing how society needs to behave and think if true equality is to come about. And the first idea was to stop treating people whose physical and mental function was significantly different to that of the majority as if they needed to be normalised. Rather, to accept that the spectrum of what constitutes “normality” is much broader than the church, the medical profession or indeed the mob mentality had previously purported. Indeed, everyone is “normal” and therefore has equal rights with everyone else. And the term “disabled”, in the context of this viewpoint, came to mean “unable to function in society because of the barriers to inclusion found there”.
And, of course, pretty much every other equality movement reached much the same conclusion.

So, for disabled people, this in turn means that everything in the built and social environments has to change – in order to allow the equal participation which comes with equal rights. The way we deliver education, the way we plan buildings, towns and infrastructure, the way we present the arts and entertainment, the way we speak to and think about each other… the list is literally endless. This way of thinking is described as the social model. It doesn’t actually do anything; it doesn’t change anything; it doesn’t make anyone’s pain go away (including mine – which is chronic in every sense of the word) – all it does is describe what needs to happen in order to bring about effective change.

And, by default, the description of things as they were – and generally still are - has become known as the medical model. This too doesn’t do anything, change anything or cure anyone. It simply encompasses everything which happens to people who are outside the subjective but narrow spectrum of acceptable physical or mental “normality” which prevailed pretty much universally prior to the social model and still continues to prevail across most of the world 50-odd years afterwards.


That these two “models” or viewpoints do co-exist is evident, even from within the Ouch! website. And I believe this is inevitable; after all everybody’s definitions of what the world is like (and what it should be like) is informed by their own unique circumstances and so differs, in some detail or other, from those of anyone else. However we can decide for ourselves where we stand on key issues and with whom we choose to align ourselves.

So, in the blue corner, we have the Medical Model: A way of categorising people according to where they stand (sit, lie or dribble) alongside the majority’s understanding of what constitutes normality and which proposes that the key to inclusion is in changing the individual to help them to become normal.

And in the red corner, I present the Social Model: The viewpoint which says that everyone (and I do mean everyone) is normal by their own standard – I am what I am – and that, rather than insisting that anyone must change to be more like someone else’s idea of beauty, normality or perfection, we should each accept, and include fully, everyone exactly as they are.

The social model simply states that I am normal because everybody is normal, and describes how things need to be in order to facilitate full equality. It doesn’t stipulate that medical cures are undesirable and shouldn’t be sought; it doesn’t insist that anyone needs to be happy the way they are or that they should not seek change, self improvement or even cosmetic surgery.

Every other approach outside of the social model, whether subconscious or intentionally proposed, is based on the single assertion that I am not “normal”.
We have, amongst others,

the medical model – dysfunction must be cured;

the religious model – dysfunction is either a punishment or a test of faith;

the gene purity / eugenics model – dysfunction must be eradicated through selection at conception or birth (or beyond);

the ghetto model – dysfunction must be kept out of sight and mind, either for their own benefit or for that of society at large;

the charity model – dysfunction must be awful; here, buy yourself some crutches or a nice hat, but don’t expect me employ you or include you alongside my family and friends;

the improvement model – abnormality is awful but, with a snip here, a graft there or some pretty pills, you might be able to fit in more comfortably with the way we do things round here (actually this is far from disability specific. Ask any 16 year-old in the waiting room for her first breast-enlargement);

the judgement model (this one in particular is often applied to new-born people or those who have recently had accidents) – dysfunction will prevent this person from ever having a decent quality of life so best to help them just slip away quietly.

All are indisputably rooted in a concept of sub-normality.

In society at large, the social model is just one of a bewildering variety of options, all waiting on the shelf for you to pick one (or not). A bit like political philosophies or religions / faiths / denominations, they do co-exist insofar as they are all “out there” simultaneously and irrespective of whether they have millions of subscribers or just one or two.

However, I submit that, apart from people with multiple-personalities, the social model cannot co-exist with any of the others in any one person’s head. All the social model does is to describe me as normal. No other viewpoint or model does this. How then can I possibly “support” two conflicting ideas – one of which insists that I am normal and the other which stipulates, irrespective of what needs to be done about it, that I am not?"


Blogger marmiteboy said...

Here, here. This is the best explanation of the various 'models' I have seen. It is quite ridiculous that a non-disabled person take a bit of the social model and a bit of the medical model. To my mind, those people who dismiss the social model and either fully, or partially, support the medical model, either don't understand what it is about (as some of the recent Ouch posts have suggested), or wish to be in a position of power and don't want social inclusion for us crips. This of course is a far more sinister position to take.

For a disabled person to take the above position is quiet shocking. Have they been so down trodden, so excluded and disempowered that they actually believe that they aren't 'normal' and therefore are not worthy of the opportunities that life gives non-disabled people? Have they been so brainwashed ( a strong word that I make no apology for using) by doctors, friends, family and the media that they actually believe that the only way that they should be allowed to fully enter into society is to be 'cured'?

The social model has never advocated that disabled people should not seek medical attention or wish for a cure. It does say however that we shouldn't have to be cured to take part in society.

The Dude is right when he says that there is no such thing a normal. There is however such a thing as 'difference' and people who are racist, sexist and homophobic hate difference, probably becuase it frightens them. Those who, after having the social and medical models expalined to them, still support the medical model, are no better than any of the above.

2:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I say Mr. Dude.

Well said indeed!!

I couldn't have put it better.

2:46 pm  
Blogger DD said...

Many thanks for the explanations. It seems to me that a lot of the people banging on about their support for these various models don't actually know what they are .

3:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Marmite.

I agree. Difference is scary to a great many people. Unfortunately it is usually because of fear, or intolerance, of difference that mobs form and extremist political parties flourish.

As Her Ladyship has pointed out, the Nazis, for example, were allegedly pretty keen on ridding the world of crips like us.

There were certain other "differences" too about which they were also not terribly enlightened.

And guess what; BNP and UKIP have each expressed similar hostility to disabled people in more recent times.

Thanks Tinkerbell

I am not hugely optimisitic, but it is devoutly to be wished that one or two more might understand as a result of my ramblings.


3:36 pm  
Blogger The Goldfish said...

[Throws bouquet at Boogaloo Dude] Bravo!

I think perhaps some people resist the Social Model because it is, ultimately, a radical position to take in a decidedly disablist society. For many people, we appear to be burning our bras here and that freaks people out.

So perhaps some disabled people long for us to tone this down a bit - wish that perhaps we might claim to be a bit equal but not entirely. I also think that in the same way some are put off feminism or antiracism by the idea we might be blaming men or white people for everything, some folks don't understand that disability is responsibility of the whole of society, which exists inside us as well as other people.

5:11 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Way to go, Dude.

I know it took you a long time; I know it was fuelled by irritation; I know you've come in for considerable stick over the last couple of days.

But you've done a good thing.

I'd suggest you set up your own blog if I didn't already know full well what your answer would be.

I'm proud to call you my friend today.

(And I'm never going to say that again, so make the most of it.)

7:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Extremely well said, Mr Dude.

However, I fear you're mistaken in thinking that the social model cannot co-exist, in one head, with any of the others.

9:12 pm  
Blogger Mr Chuckles said...

One of the key problems fracturing the disability rights movement is the way that so many disabled people are ignorant of the aims of that movement - because they do not understand the social model approach. Well done for a very clear explanation of the concept behind it - that the word 'normal' should be expunged from the English language (and the same treatment given to whatever 'normal' is in all those other languages that I have never mastered!)
Part of the problem lies in the way that social model thinking has still to progress into the wider world: the majority of disabled people develop their impairment in later life - after they have been brought up in an exclusive society, where they have learnt to apply at least one, if not more of the other models to their thinking of disabled people. If you grow up believing that 'those disabled people should be grateful' then it is hardly surprising if, when you join their club, you develop feelings of gratitude. Indeed they have been brainwashed, by the terrible process of growing up as a 'normy'.

9:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goldfish: Thanks. [(catches bouquet, sneezes violently, puts back out and has 6 months off work]
Nicely put. However, I ain't burnin' my bra for no one; my children use it as a tent in the summer.


Lady Bracknell: I don't know what to say in response to that. However, since we're getting slushy, will you settle for "I owe it all to you!"?


Notlikethosepeople: Thanks for the comment. However, I fear you're mistaken in thinking that I'm mistaken in thinking that the social model cannot co-exist, in one head, with any of the others... Unless you know a way of reconciling the understanding that you are a full and equal member of society with a simultaneous belief of equal strength that you are worth less and entitled to less than the people around you.
I certainly couldn't believe both those things at the same time, any more than I could be simultaneously both a Christian and a Muslim!


Mr Chuckles: Thankyou for your support. I shall wear it always!! Shall we partake of a coffee and maybe a smoking mixture or two sometime soon?


12:11 am  
Blogger Mary said...

Damn good explanation, I particularly liked the list of the various models.

I do still feel though, when I apply all this stuff to my own personal situation which is the only one I am at all qualified to consider... I still have a lot of anger. My anger generally isn't at society for seeing me as subnormal. It's at my impairment which is preventing me from doing things that until recently I had enjoyed.

Sod fully participating in work/society/family life, I feel like I'm rendered unable to fully participate in being me.

Of course I'm still a worthwhile human being, of course I still have a lot to offer in a variety of ways, of course I shouldn't be doing myself damage in order to desperately try to fit the norm.

Can't I want the social part to say "yes! you are worthwhile!" and the medical lot to say "but, your impairment seems to be causing you problems, so if we can make your existence easier, particularly in the ways which have nothing to do with physical access barriers and reasonable adjustments, let's do it."

This comment is too long and should best be ignored as I'm not capable of a reasoned argument this week. That's one of the things that bugs me most, actually.

11:18 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you. That was amusing, certainly, but also very useful.

1:17 pm  
Blogger Katie said...

I'm sure you'll agree I have resolved this debate forever:


2:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you so much! Your comment really got me thinking and I believe it has helped me to put my finger on why so many people say they want to stick with the medical model – or at least to hang bits of it onto the social model. It’s because the social model externalises everything and only talks about disability as the product of a society which fails to act in an inclusive fashion. It doesn’t talk about the pain or dysfunction we may experience, how crappy it can be, or how nice it might be to be cured.

However (and here’s the crunch) …. neither does the medical model!!!

The two “models” are simply different ways of viewing the interactions between people who have significant physical or mental impairments and the rest of the world. In fact, all the models are no more than that.
Neither the social, nor the medical, nor any of the other models considers the individual at all, except as a microcosm of the reaction to disabled people by society as a whole.

The “models” are about group dynamics; about whether inclusion is desirable and how to achieve it. They variously describe the way the majority - who do not experience the impairments which, even though they are all different, identify us together as a disabled community (for want of a better word) - interacts with us. Maybe the world reacts to us with indifference, charity, disgust, segregation, persecution or by eliminating barriers to inclusion. But, in every case which I can think of, each “model” simply describes the relationship between two groups - “the majority” and “the crips”.

On the flip side though, none of the “models” denies the fact that physical or mental impairment can be painful, a flaming nuisance or completely disrupt one’s life. And none of the models precludes the notion that we may wish to be rid of our impairments (unless anyone genuinely subscribes to a “fatalist” model!).

The trouble with those philosophies which have medical cure as the only route to integration, is that they don’t acknowledge any other ways in which we can become equal. The problem with the medical model is that it sees cure as the sole means by which we can integrate and therefore insists that we should all want to be cured as our first and only concern. All of which then rather begs the question, “So what do you do with those poor unfortunates for whom there isn’t a cure; Can there be no equality for them?”

Think of the traffic flow plan for a town, drawn up by planners in a remote office. This plan does not consider the feelings of drivers who are stuck in an almighty queue when there is an empty bus lane inches to the left, or the annoyance of a 30mph speed limit when you are in a hurry to make an appointment, or the inconvenience of having to go three miles out of your way round a one-way system to get your kids to school. A traffic flow plan discusses the way things happen on a big scale, how to avoid accidents and death, how to keep things moving and how to combine the needs of the town with the needs of drivers. It doesn’t focus on, or even discuss the problems, issues or circumstances of individual drivers and whether they might be having a bad day. It doesn’t deny your individuality, your feelings, thoughts, preferences and experiences; that’s just not what the plan is concerned with .

And so it is with these models. They are not about how you or I feel; they are about how society, as a whole, reacts to you; to me; to us.

I could understand people saying they want to stick with the medical viewpoint if it made a positive personal difference to their lives. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t make them better; it doesn’t change or improve anything. All it really does is to incline towards acceptance of the political and sociological status quo and accept that cure is the only answer for everyone

Supporting the social model does not deny your personal experience, nor is it a betrayal of those whose impairments have a significant detrimental effect on their lives. It doesn’t say that you should be happy about your situation, but it does empower you. It doesn’t say you shouldn’t take medication or that you mustn’t want to be cured but it does say that, even “un-cured” you still have rights. All that support for (or even active campaigning for) the implementation of social model policies in society says about you, is that you want acceptance on equal terms for yourself and the rest of us.

Thanks again for making me think this through. I did it in a bit of a rush but I hope it helps.

Dude x

10:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


At last the voice of sanity and reason!! It's already on my Christmas list!

Loving your work. Keep it up!!




Cheers. Glad you were entertained. Spread the word!!


10:35 am  
Blogger Cusp said...

My God this is an erudite piece of writing: spot-on and thank God you have taken the time to put it all down on 'screen'. Too many people bandy about terms e.g. 'this model'/'that model' assuming they know what those models are, when they have really only picked up the gist of what they are about.

However, I have to admit some sympathy with Mary (probably because we share the same condition i.e. ME/CFS -- oh joy!).

Our disabled status is largely hidden, difficlut to perceive and understand. Within the medical model we are but a postscript --- an apparently unfathomable enigma, blown about from the psychological shore to the biological shore according to the ebb and flow of medical opinion. Our condition is frustrating enough in itself without this undermining effect. Coupled with this is that, because we tend to have little suppport within the medical model our needs within the social model are largely misunderstood, denied or ignored.

I *am* able to enter a building without the aid of ramp or handrail but using either would be helpful. I *am* able to do my own shopping (sometimes !) but if I owned up to the fact that I am prone to panic attacks, that the fluoresecnt lights make me dizzy and the 'thrum' of fridges can drive me mad, not many people would take me seriously --- or the fact that the chemicals used to clean said shops can make me feel sick and bring on rotten headaches that can last for days.

Can I justifably ask said shops to change their lighting, cleaning products within the social model ? Would I be justified ?

I have written elsewhere that knowing about these models and acknowledging them as useful ways of trying to interpret behaviour and improve the lot of all people is laudable. Really dealing with them is something else (or is for me) -- e.g. when I could still work I worked for an organisation which offered and developed services for disabled people. As I felt increasingly ill (but got little or no help from the medical fraternity), although I knew all the theory around disability I still felt unentitled to go off sick because I was surrounded by disabled people (work colleagues) who were supposedly worse off than me -- i.e. they were wheelchair users, deaf, visually impaired etc. I perceived them as less able somehow than myself when in fact, I see now, they were more able than me and had more energy and were able to continue with their work and social and family lives. I couldn't and still cannot.

In the eyes of society they are still seen as disabled (because of the outward signs, illnesses and the adaptations which they genuinely need to function in an able-bodied world). Ironically I am still seen as able bodied when, actually, I spend a great deal of time in bed or feeling so ill that I cannot function.

How do you define disability ?

* sorry this is so long but I would really appreciate some debate about this

10:04 pm  
Blogger Katie said...

My brain hurts.

2:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re. group dynamics, you have just restated Foucault. More intelligibly than he stated himself. And importantly.

Unless you know a way of reconciling the understanding that you are a full and equal member of society with a simultaneous belief of equal strength that you are worth less and entitled to less than the people around you.

A simultaneous belief of equal strength? No. But simultaneous beliefs, predominating by turns? Yes.

Perhaps splitting hairs. Or perhaps the sort of gymnastics to be performed only after long durance in the psychiatric system.

2:27 pm  
Blogger Katie said...

It is impossible to restate Foucault less intelligbly than he does himself.

1:26 am  

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