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How to use the Social Model of Disability in everyday life

Whether you’re disabled or not – learning about the Social Model of Disability can be a real light bulb moment for us.

I know for me, learning about the social model was the first time I ever considered myself to be disabled. It challenged my perceptions and changed my life.

Non-disabled colleagues have described how they have come to use it in aspects such as child rearing.

If you’re not sure what the Social Model of Disability is…

The Social Model of Disability teaches us that people are disabled by barriers. Barriers might be put in place by society, and if those barriers weren’t present, we could have the same experiences and opportunities as non-disabled people. For example – a building with no lift is inaccessible. It means only people who can walk well can use it. It means if you have a wheelchair, pain, a broken leg or are using a pushchair for example – this building is inaccessible to you. Different barriers affect people in different ways.

A barrier might be someone’s attitude. For example, you might tell someone you are disabled and they might say ‘you don’t look disabled’. Social stigma prevents people from accessing the help and support they might need. It sounds simple, and in an ideal world – it would be. But as I’m sure you’re already aware, this is not an ideal world and it’s not simple.

Barriers can be complex, and it can seem there are no solutions to the barriers you’re facing. One of the questions we get a lot here at Equal Lives is ‘how can I use the Social Model of Disability in every day life?’

If you are a disabled person, a good start is identifying the barriers. Try to move away from ‘I can’t go to the football because I can’t get there’ – and re frame this. Why can’t you go? If it’s because there isn’t suitable public transport in your area – that is the barrier. The barrier isn’t you. You would be able to go if there was an accessible option for you.

Once you get into the habit of framing the barriers – they become easier to tackle.

You can use it to ask for help, and to campaign for improvements. Understanding the barriers helps us to find out who to ask for support, and what to ask for.

If you’re not disabled – you might practice understanding where you could remove barriers. Take a look around your workplace for example. Is it accessible? Do you have children? Do they ask you about disability? What do you say? Understanding that disabled people are disabled by barriers – will help you to identify where they could be removed. Don’t wait to be asked. If you see a barrier and you think it could be removed, talk to people around you to help shape an accessible alternative.

For more information on the Social Model of Disability and how to use it – you can enquire about Disability Equality Training. Email us at or call 01508 491 210 and ask for Hetal or Kimberly.

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