The Social Model of Disability

In line with the Equality Act (2010), the Disability Advisory Service works on the principle of the Social Model of Disability. This is in preference to the medical or individual model of disability, which suggests that the 'problem' of disability resides with the disabled person rather than with society. This approach puts people at risk of social isolation and low expectations and tends to focus on impairment above any other aspect of the person's identity.

An impairment is a limitation or absence of sensory, mental or physical function. The social model approach sees barriers or difficulties which prevent or limit disabled people's participation as being the responsibility of society rather than a consequence of someone's individual impairments.

The Equality Act requires that, in the main, such barriers can and should be removed as quickly as is reasonable. This allows for the fuller participation of more individuals. 'Reasonable adjustments' is the legal term given to changes which help disabled people to participate more fully or equally in particular environments or activities. These changes can be made on an individual basis, or can be 'anticipatory'. In Higher Education, for example, providing electronic copies of lecture materials in advance and networking assistive technology software, benefits all students, not just those who are disabled.

The Equality Act places a duty upon Higher Education institutions to be anticipatory in their provision to visitors and students as well as being responsive to the individual needs of disabled visitors, students and staff.