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Accessibility and Disability Resource Centre


The social model of disability is a useful tool for explaining the challenges presented to disabled people by their external environment, as well as a practical strategy for developing inclusive provision in higher education. It theorises disability as a product of the barriers individuals face as a result of environmental and attitudinal factors rather than situating the problem with the individual.

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 ADRC 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 ADRC recognises that preferences around language vary from country to country.

The ADRC adopts the Social Model approach in alignment with the Equality Act (2010), the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), and the General Medical Council (GMC).