Social and Traditional Models of Disability.

Essay by SteveMcCartUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, November 2005

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Over the years, I have heard many, many times from my parents, my coaches and my

teachers to never take anything for granted. And even though I heard them, I'm not quite

sure that I was actually listening to the true meaning of these words. Not until you've actually

experienced 'walking in someone else's shoes' can you truly begin to

understand what taking things for granted means. And not necessarily the most obvious

things in one's athletic ability or intelligence or opportunities...but the simplest things

such as reaching for a book, opening a door, climbing stairs, brushing one's teeth. The list is

endless really. This assignment made me realize just how difficult some of these simple tasks

are for many people in our society.

The first task of this assignment was to visit the library and sign out some books related to

disability. For most people this doesn't present any problems.

But for a wheelchair bound

person or one with limited mobility, there are huge obstacles to overcome. Personally I had

little trouble maneuvering from place to place. In a matter of

minutes, I was able to walk to the third floor, quickly look around

then return to the main floor where I asked for some assistance

locating the materials I needed. However for someone in a wheelchair,

this sequence of events would take much longer.

First of all, he/she would have to locate the key to the elevator

from someone. Upon arriving at the third floor, he/she would then have

to move through extremely narrow aisle ways that is barely wide enough

for the able bodied to walk through. Once their materials are located,

they will require the assistance of someone to actually get the books

from the shelves. This simple task took me approximately 20 minutes.

One can only begin to imagine how long this task would take someone

with a physical disability.

So what does the term disability actually mean? Disability can be

defined as a condition that prevents an individual's functional

limitations and impairs their performance and enjoyment of daily

activities. In other words easy tasks become very difficult to

complete and therefore they enjoy them even less.

There are two schools of thought associated with disability, the

traditional model and the social model.

It is important to understand the traditional attitudes towards

disability in order to plan program's for them that will improve

their quality of life so that they feel like important members of

society. "People with physical disabilities can enjoy many of the same

health-related benefits from resistance training program's as those

without physical disabilities"

Issues associated with disability need to be brought to the

attention of those responsible for making program's and policies. They

must know how much their decisions affect the lives of those living

with disability. "Before developing any individualized program's for a

client, the initial assessment should focus on evaluating these

conditions: range of motion, basic strength and muscle function". It is

important to realize that all of these factors differ from one disabled

person to another. So to put into effect one policy that covers all

will most likely only meet the needs of a few.

Traditionally society has also labeled those with disabilities as

'unfortunate'. We group them together according to their disability,

such as 'the blind' or 'the deaf'. Also many types of disabilities are

more acceptable than others. Those who are blind or deaf are definitely

seen in a different light than those who traditionally have been called

'retarded'. Expectations differ depending on the disability. "It is

generally appropriate to follow basic guidelines for resistance

training development when designing program's for clients with various

physical and mental disabilities."

The traditional model sees the cause of the problem as stemming from

limitations or losses that are assumed to arise from the disability.

Programming then must meet the individual needs of the client rather

than the group as a whole. The old saying 'one size fits all' does not

address the needs of those with disabilities. Individual assessments

are required to identify and develop personal program's to suit their

needs. Similar to athletes exercising at the gym, their workout

program targets certain muscle groups depending on the needs of the


The social models of disability recognize that there are no

individual limitations of any kind for the disabled. These individuals

are very capable of completing most tasks if the appropriate services

and programs are available to them. Impairment does not mean the same

thing as disability.

The social model recognizes that people living with disabilities can

be valued members of the workforce and society. Unlike years ago when

"more formal institutions affiliated with religious organizations were

established but not all persons who needed help received it (for

example, during the 17th and 18th centuries, society incarcerated the

mentally ill), society today recognizes the importance of integrating

those living with mental illness into society. No longer are the

mentally ill sent away or jailed. Training and assistance is provided

to improve their quality of life. Group homes and job programmers are

available to meet their needs. In schools those with disabilities can

be found in the classroom working side by side with every other student

in the school.

My father tells me the story of a special needs student in his class.

At the end of the year his students went on a field trip to Muskoka

Woods for 4 days and 3 nights. Every night Matthew wet the bed. And

every night those staying in his bunk changed him and put him to bed.

In a tragic accident while vacationing in Germany he was killed along

with his father and younger brother. At the memorial service, my father

told Matthew's mother that Matthew had taught his other students more

about compassion and understanding than any lesson they could have

learned from a book.

There have also been huge advances in the health care field that

have enabled those living with disability to enjoy a better quality of

life. "Technology has helped to extend or improve the lives of

premature infants, people living with devastating illness, those

suffering from closed-head injuries and the elderly".

One of the areas that the social model has addressed is in the area

of funding. In order for society to look at those with disabilities as

contributing members of society, then money has to be available in

order to educate, train, provide health services and transportation for

the disabled. "Observing that the working disabled tended to fall into

the lowest socio-economic class, Ontario's social assistance review

committee declared that it would be unrealistic to withdraw financial

support from this group."

This assignment has opened my eyes in many ways. I am more aware of

the difficulties that every day living presents those living with

disability. I also recognize that change can only be brought about when

both schools of thought are working together. Disability issues are

really human rights issues. Every human being should be treated equally

and every human being should have every opportunity to enjoy life. We

should not ever take even the smallest things for granted. We need to

recognize the improvements in the quality of life offered to those

living with a disability but we must also recognize that these

improvements took a long time. And there is still much to be done. We

must also look at life from others' perspective as well. Where I saw

taking books from the library as a difficult task for a wheelchair

bound student, I must also applaud his/her determination and

perseverance at accomplishing his/her goal. I should not judge the

accomplishments by my standards but understand the accomplishments

from theirs.