Definitions and Terms

The Social Model of Disability 

This blog will be using the social model of disability.

In recent years the understanding of disability has undergone a dramatic shift. Until recently disability was understood via the ‘medical model’ which ‘views disability as something to be cured’ and sees illness and disability as a problem which belongs to the individual.

Now, disability is understood more through the ‘social model’ which distinguishes between an individual’s impairment and disability.

It is society that disables individuals through barriers that make life inaccessible for people with impairments.

The introduction of the social model empowered disabled people to organise globally to defend the rights they had been denied. The shift from disability as an individual ‘problem’ to a societal issue, meant that disabled people could work together to achieve changes and remove barriers.

For more information about The Social Model of Disability,  the charity Scope have an excellent page describing it and a great video. You can access it here.

Impairment, Disabled People or People with Disabilities

There is a lot of disagreement as to how disabled people like to be referred.

I generally believe that you (as a disabled person)  should tell people how you would like to be referred, and it’s okay for that to be different to other people, it’s your choice!

Throughout this blog there will be use of the term disabled people/disabled person/impairment rather than People with Disabilities. Please try not to be offended if this is not the term you prefer.

I use this term as it is related to the social model, which views disability as a societal issue rather than an individual issue. In this way we can work together to challenge the disabling barriers in society!


Physical Barriers are structural obstacles that prevent mobility.

  • for example stairs preventing someone with mobility impairment getting into a building.

Communication Barriers are often experienced by disabled people with impairments which affect their hearing, vision, speaking, writing or understanding. 

  • An example of a communication barrier is using only small type on documents, not having variable sizes or formats such as braile, or ability to use with screen readers. Or not having captioning on videos.

Attitudinal Barriers are generally negative views of disability which often results in discrimination.

  • Attitudinal barriers can be very difficult to see, but they can be just as challenging as other barriers.
  • An example of attitudinal barriers is media representation of disabled people as victims who need pity, rather than as independent people who can and should live full lives as part of their fundamental rights.

Disabled people experience all these barriers and much more. However it is also clear that disabled people with hidden impairments experience attitudinal barriers very deeply. As often the general public don’t ‘believe’ they are disabled if they can’t see it. This has an impact on their ability to overcome the other barriers.

It is my belief that disabled people experience a huge variety of barriers, this is just a quick summary. To read more about the variety of barriers that disabled people face this is a very useful website, that goes into it in much more detail.