I first encountered the medical vs social models
of disability during a training course on disability awareness about a year ago - to say it opened my eyes would be a fair assessment: I've certainly found it informing my ideas and the way I relate to many many things ever since.
There's good reading in that link, but here's how I understand it:
model says that a disabled person is a person with a disability - and the disability is the problem. Barbara can't make it to the top floor because she is a paraplegic*
model says that a disabled person is a person who encounters difficulties in pursuing a normal life because of the way society is structured - society is the problem. Bobby can't make it to the top floor because there isn't a working lift in the building.
Mr. Murdock can't read the case files because it hasn't been typed into Braille.
Ms. Lucas can't fully engage in this discussion because no one's interpreting for her.**
That's not to say that sometimes talking about the medical causes for the disability isn't useful - but it's primarily useful in actual medical treatment, and frankly isn't the business of society as a whole. As someone who works with the public; as someone who interacts every week with hundreds of people if not more I have never met before, as a member of society, it's not my business why
a person might not be having the optimum experience they could have - my business is how can I make this better?
That's what I took away from that day. But from then on, I kept watching myself and the way I used the medical model to dictate my world view. And what happened when I re-applied the social model.
Let's take, for instance, my long standing frustration with my own difficulties with focus, memory, organisation and anxiety. I asked for referral to an NHS psychologist and I went in with determination: I am going to get myself diagnosed with - or cleared of - Attention Deficit Disorder so I can go ahead and deal with it.
Somehow I had it in my head that I couldn't proceed with my life unless I identified an illness that I could 'cure'.
In the meantime - it took 18 months between referral and my first appointment - I continued to listen to zencast
and to meditate and to explore Buddhism as a path. And I had constantly this idea that it's unhelpful to define people by their medical 'conditions', rather than accepting each person as an individual and try to change my attitude to a world full of individuals. So, when my therapist asked "well, if anti-ADD tactics work on you, does it matter if you can get a specialist diagnosis or not?" - I didn't really have much to say. Part of me wanted to bring up the maybe possibility of
perhaps drugs might fix it?
, but the majority of my mind rejected this silent plea, because I'm generally untrusting of brain drugs, given some friends' bad experiences of them and my inclination to want to fix the cause, not tape over the symptom. I prefer behavioural strategies, and Maria was right, there absolutely was no reason not to incorporate strategies into my life to see if they worked.
And they do work***
. Maybe one of these days I shall do a post about those strategies. When I remember that I'm supposed to be blogging here again. It doesn't matter if I have this 'condition' or not, what does matter is that I know my brain and know how to get it to work the way I want it to.
Similarly, I remember a discussion with my sister - also an education professional - about new research that showed that techniques used to teach dyslexic children to read can also
children without dyslexia. When she described the technique, I laughed; it was the same phonetic ah-buh-ker (rather than ay-bee-see) technique with which I
was taught to read. (It's unfair to say that's how I learned - I learned to read three years before any professional teacher tried to use 'techniques' on me). Of course
techniques developed for children who have difficulty reading would make reading easier for children who don't satisfy the conditions for the 'learning difficulties' label. It's a technique that makes reading easier. QED.
What I'm trying to say, that talking about disabilities as medical 'things' is, in my experience and training, an unhelpful thing to do. And I was reminded of this fact during a conversation last week about a certain well known political figure last week and a letter he wrote.
According to the Sun
, and the grieving mother they paraded out to make the point, spelling mistakes - including the name of your subject - and low quality handwriting are unforgivable and indicative of all sorts of reasons he's clearly unfit for office - blah blah Sun's agenda blah. Meanwhile on Twitter, I was drawn into a conversation in the same way I often am - I see a point I can make and I make it regardless of whether or not I understand the context. The conversation in question was whether or not it was fair to pick on the handwriting and spelling of someone with partial sight and dyslexia. I was soon challenged to 'prove' that Brown was blind and dyslexic.
I hope I made the point and it wasn't lost - that it shouldn't matter
whether he is or not. That it is polite and respectful to spell people's names right, but if I went to a national newspaper every time someone spelled it "Debbie" I'd never get any work done - but more importantly, that the reason "you can't pick on me, I'm dyslexic!" card is old and tired because picking on spelling is old and tired. Demanding that Brown produce proof of blindness and/or a learning difficulty like some sort of note from his mother is pathetic. and plays to the medical model.
I have nothing but sympathy for bereaved mothers and I understand that people lash out when grieving, but I'd like to see more people talk about why on Earth people are still out there, and a little less bitching about whether or not spelling is a required skill for leadership.*while it is possible to use the medical model without turning verbs that describe people into nouns that define them, such linguistic travesties are a sure sign that you're doing so. Please see also "gays" as opposed to "gay people", "female" instead of "woman" and "blacks", "Asians" and similar. Remember how close these words get to bigoted slurs.
**the same very educational day introduced to me to the concept that people who sign often don't consider themselves as disabled, so much as a linguistic minority; sign languages are not just a way of communicating in English/spoken language of your choice, but separate languages, and the disabling barrier is often not a matter of hearing impairment, but the same linguistic issues I might (and have) encounter in, say, Japan.***when I remember to stick to them. This may or may not be a symptom of the same thing I'm trying to counter with them.