Approaches to disability
It is important for donors to understand and recognise the models and approaches to disability that may be reflected in different development settings and legislative or policy frameworks.
As the Preamble to the UNCRPD notes in paragraph (e), disability is an evolving concept. Globally there have been changes in the way society has understood and responded to disability.
Historically, several approaches to disability have prevailed:
- A medical model which has focused on the need for health treatment and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities in order to enable them to meet societal norms and 'fit' into society. Medical and welfare professionals are seen as 'experts' on disability and thus persons with disabilities themselves often have limited decision making power.
- A charity model which sees persons with disabilities as passive recipients of welfare and 'help', and can emphasise the segregation of persons with disabilities from mainstream community life in order to care for them.
Both of these approaches are disempowering of persons with disabilities, and fail to take into account the need to address the disabling impact of barriers that exist in society's broader systems and structures.
- The social model, in its purest form, places the emphasis purely on the disabling physical, policy and attitudinal barriers that exist in society and disable a person with an impairment.
Disability inclusive development should take a rights based approach. This incorporates social model thinking where external barriers are identified in conjunction with persons with disabilities being the focal point in the attainment of their rights
- A rights based approach emphasises the dignity and worth of persons with disabilities, their rights to access all life opportunities on an equal basis with others, and their role as active participants in their own development. This approach is reflected in the UNCRPD which defines persons with disabilities as encompassing "those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others." (emphasis added).
Use of language
Interpretation of the social and rights based model of disability recognises that persons with disabilities are people first. Recommended language when discussing or referencing disability in a document is person-first language. For example: 'a student who is blind', 'a woman with fistula', 'a person who uses a wheelchair'.
This site adopts the terminology 'persons with disabilities' as the language used by the UNCRPD. Other resources to which the site links will use a variety of terms. It is important to be able to use terminology which is respectful and person-centred.
Links to resources below provide explanation of the models of disability, guidance on principles informing a rights based approach, and practical guidance and tips on language.