Over the last decade, I have tried to explain how the disability landscape has naturally been changing and how more complex it has become, and here is another attempt. Since the 1970s, there has been two models of disability, the medical and social model, which I will explain below. Since 2010, I believe there has been a third model emerging that complicates the issue dramatically, and that is the concept of health poverty, which incorrectly defines itself as being a definition of disability.
As regular readers should know, the medical model sees disability as a medical problem, which has to be either fixed or eliminated. Now very much how of fashion, the solutions proposed under this model are therapies, treatments, operations and so on to cure people, or abortion and eugenics to removed these abnormalities from society. The era of believing science can solve everything at some point is over, although I fear the lure of eugenics has not been fully eradicated.
Disabled people in the 1970s, a community dominated by people with spinal injuries, was unhappy at this negative portrayal of their lives and created the social model. This argued that it was not their impairment that was the problem but rather how society responded to their impairments. This argued for accessibility of the built environment and other constructional changes. While the social model is deemed to be focused on physical impairments, I believe a fuller understanding of the social model can apply to all people with impairments but that is another story.
Roll forward to 2010 and the UK government reforms, along with the increase of lifestyle related impairments (obesity, diabetes, alcoholism, stress and anxiety), gave rise to a vocal ‘sick’ movement. Like all impairment groups with a new voice, they have assumed they are the only group ever to suffer as disabled people, ignoring the experiences of everyone else.
The pathway into long term impairment is through the sick role. This is the social role of allowed people to have time off work for illness so long as they take responsibility for getting better if they are able to. A general demonisation of social responsibility means being sick is now seen to be a right. As people strive to become long term sick, hence causing conflict with the sick note and benefit assessment processes, they use a corrupted version of the social model to determine their social disadvantage to be an economic one.
This means there do not see their disadvantage in terms of their biological difference, nor their social exclusion from society, but simply the financial difficulties of being long term sick. They have demonisation work as a part of their life no longer available to them and sees any attempt to restore their biological or social worth as a betrayal of their legitimate health status.
Therefore disability is now defined as ‘health poverty’, the financial difficulties of not working because of health situations that could potentially improve if people desired it, which is often not the case. They see the only solution for health poverty as the provision of welfare benefits based on pity for people now self-rejected from society as self-defined inferior beings.
This left-wing notion of disability fits into the human rights model of disability, which is not the social model, and has been adopted by Equality and Human Rights Commission and the United Nations. Assuming the inferiority of disabled people, which the social model tried to challenge, these organisations merely see the rights of disabled people in terms of the elimination of their health poverty. So basically pay them a lot of money to stay excluded from society and the job is done!
The imposing of the health poverty model upon all disabled people undermines what as been achieved under the social model, and it is important this model is challenged for the prejudice it brings disabled people. The welfarisation of disability has been very damaging but it is time it was halted and we restored striving to include all disabled people into society as fully contributing citizens as the goal of everyone.
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