Social Model of Disability

Several people attended the Social Model and Disability Training which took place last Wednesday, 6th June, from 10.30 am to 4pm, in the Ballyfermot Library for an interesting look at disability and the medical and social models. The core focus of this interesting training was to look at the word disability and take it apart. Someone had even suggested “why not talk about ability?” This question had us thinking, especially me.

The main speaker or teacher was Peter Kairns.  Peter has cerebral palsy and gave us a very good explanation on his impairment and that he had been born with it.  He had the disability talk well-structured through discussions, experimental exercises and making us think.  Peter mentioned that he enjoys documentaries and writing short pieces on disabled articles.

The first part of the training, Peter had us do some very interesting and funny experimental exercises.  The purpose of the following exercises was to give a different perspective of looking at disability, and that we are all equal regardless of whether one is disabled or not.  These exercises proved that having a disability does not mean one is restricted from doing certain things.

  • ‘I love you but I can’t smile’ exercise: We were told to say to the person to the left of us: “I love you but I can’t smile”. We each did this in turns and were asked how we felt about this exercise afterwards.  A few of us thought it was an interesting but funny ice-breaker.  Some said it was a bit strange, some others said it was a bit embarrassing.
  • ‘Say our name and what we had for breakfast’ exercise: As stated, we had to say our name and what we had for breakfast.
  • ‘Say our name and use the first letter of our name to associate a word to describe us’: We then had to remember each other’s name, and first letter of each of their names that associated with a word to describe them. This was very exciting and amusing and had us laughing and chatting a lot.  It was also a great way to remember each other’s name.  After these experimental exercises, we were all warmed up and felt more confident in participating.  The overall interesting idea from these well thought-up exercises is that it made us think differently.

Later on, Peter had us do a very challenging exercise where we had to pass a toy without using our hands.  I found this quite frustrating, but in a very amusing way.  I stole a glance towards the other group, and couldn’t keep a straight face as one of the guys had the toy on his right shoulder! Through this exercise, he was demonstrating to us that disabilities can actually be created!  Again, this exercise really made us think.  Peter was trying to teach us that there is a big difference between disability and condition.  He had suggested we actually google the proper definition of “disability”, which I looked at for myself.




a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.

“children with severe physical disabilities”

synonyms: condition, disorder, affliction, ailment, complaint, illness, malady, disease; More

a disadvantage or handicap, especially one imposed or recognized by the law.

“the plaintiff was under a disability

This discussion addressed on how some of us feel that society creates disabilities as it seems they take little to no account of people with impairments.  We went on to discuss resources being needed to have the same access as others, by understanding the ‘medical model’ and the ‘social model’. 

The medical model of disability says people are disabled by their impairments or differences.

In order to understand the disability experience, we felt we needed more than just medical “facts” in determining medication for the way the disabled person lives.  The medical model looks at what is wrong with the disabled person, not what the disabled person needs.

The social model of disability is more-so said to be caused by the way society is organized instead of a person’s impairment.  It looks at removing barriers that cause restrictions for disabled people.  Attitudes found in society can also be barriers.  I personally thought it was a great idea for disabled people to create the social model as a way to eliminate disabled people having labels.

This social model and disability training was very informative, and helped us to understand the living experience for a disabled person.  I felt this training helped us to become more aware of the issues that disabled people feel strongly for and strongly against.  It made me realise how society can disable people without even realising it.  In my own opinion, it might be a good idea to start getting more familiar with the social model of disability.