Is Social Model of Disability a Theory?


Jane Flores

The Social Model of Disability is a widely recognized framework that challenges the traditional medical model of disability. It views disability as a social construct rather than an individual’s personal problem.

But is the Social Model of Disability just a theory? Let’s explore this in detail.

Understanding the Social Model of Disability

The Social Model of Disability originated in the late 20th century as a response to the limitations of the medical model. According to this model, disability is not caused solely by an individual’s impairment or difference but by barriers and prejudices present in society.

Key Principles

1. Social Construction: The Social Model recognizes that disability is not an inherent characteristic but a result of societal attitudes, norms, and physical barriers. 2. Barriers: These can be attitudinal, physical, or institutional factors that prevent disabled individuals from fully participating in society.

3. Inclusion: The model promotes inclusion by advocating for equal access to education, employment, transportation, and other essential services for disabled individuals. 4. Emphasis on Rights: It highlights the rights of disabled individuals and aims to remove discrimination and prejudice they face.

The Difference Between Theory and Model

While many people use the terms “theory” and “model” interchangeably, they have distinct meanings in academia.

A theory is an explanation or framework that explains a particular phenomenon based on empirical evidence and research. It aims to provide a deeper understanding by analyzing cause-and-effect relationships.

On the other hand, a model is a simplified representation or conceptual framework used to explain complex concepts or systems. Models are often based on theories but are more practical and applicable.

When it comes to the Social Model of Disability, it can be seen as both a theoretical concept rooted in social sciences and a practical model for understanding disability from a social perspective.

The Practical Application of the Social Model

The Social Model of Disability has had a significant impact on disability rights and activism. It has influenced policy changes, accessibility improvements, and the overall perception of disability in society.

Through the use of legislation, awareness campaigns, and advocacy efforts, disabled individuals and their allies have pushed for inclusive environments that address societal barriers. This includes accessible infrastructure, inclusive education, employment opportunities, and equal rights.


In conclusion, the Social Model of Disability is not just a theory but also a practical framework for understanding and addressing disability from a social perspective. It highlights the importance of removing societal barriers to create an inclusive society for all individuals, regardless of their impairments or differences.

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