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Expanding your interests: How useful are the social and medical models?

In this video Tom Shakespeare discusses the usefulness of the social and medical models of disability.
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MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. How useful are the social and medical models?
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TOM SHAKESPEARE: So I don’t want to get hung up on models. We talk about the medical model, which is seeing a disabled person as just a set of medical problems. Of course, that’s wrong. We talk a about the social model, seeing disabled people as disabled by society, not by their bodies. Well, that’s sort of right. But actually, it’s both. We have lots of different factors in our lives. The medical, the psychological, the social, the legal, whatever. I would like to see us understanding disability as a relationship between all of these things. So let’s take a holistic approach, but let’s intervene at the right level. If it’s a medical problem, we don’t want a social worker.
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And if it’s a problem of going shopping, we’re not going to ask a doctor. So let’s be understanding of the complexity but intervene at the right level.

In this short video, Tom Shakespeare — a well-known disability scholar and activist — outlines what the medical and social definitions of disability mean to him, saying that he finds some value in the medical aspect in particular situations.

Talking points

  • How useful do you find the social and medical models of disability?
  • How do you think Tom’s interpretation of disability fits with the ideas we have learned so far?
  • Do these models present any problems for better understanding the diverse perceptions and experiences of disabled people’s lives?
  • If you already have some experience thinking about disability, you might also share how you would like to see us think about disability.

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Disability and a Good Life: Thinking through Disability

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