The Social Model of Disability suggests that disability is the discrimination experienced by those perceived to have an impairment. Rather than the barrier or difficulty being the responsibility of the individual disabled person, it is seen as a barrier created by society.
This is distinct from the earlier medical model, which suggested that the ‘problem’ of disability resides with the disabled person rather than with society. This earlier model presents risks of social isolation, low expectations, and a focus on impairment above any other aspects of the person's identity.
This is a helpful distinction as, for the most part, barriers can be removed and, since the Equality Act (2010), are required to be dealt with in a timely way. Many barriers, when removed, allow greater participation for a number of individuals, including those who are not disabled people. Examples would include the provision of electronic copies of lecture materials in advance and the networking of assistive technology software.
This is also why the DRC uses the form ‘students with…’ when describing an individual student where it is appropriate to name their impairment, and the term 'disabled student(s)' when speaking collectively. The DRC recognises that preferences around language vary from country to country.
The DRC adopts the Social Model approach in alignment with the Equality Act (2010), the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), and the General Medical Council (GMC).