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Redefining Disability, Inclusion and Access

Why are there lights in every room? Is it because we all need lights or because, we don’t want to exclude people who need lights to see? We all need bathrooms, can we always assume that there will be a bathroom for us to use in every building? If you are an able bodied cis person you likely can but... What if you’re are disabled? Who as a society do we expect to show up? Who have we designed our spaces to include? Who is being excluded? This feature topic will explore the social model of disability and how the environment shapes and constructs understandings of disability.

Big Ideas Summary

When disability is discussed in current society it is often thought of as a medical issue. The discussion of disability usually becomes about impairment or illness. While, there is a bodily component to disability that is not its only dimension. Disability can be theorized through a collection of models.

The Medical Model

This refers to the medical or health based component of disability as discussed above. This is typically the way disability is constructed or thought of through the language of diagnostics. This model often places the problem on the person. This model suggests that there is a default way of being and that anything that is not that requires fixing. The medical model seeks to cure or fix.

The Social or Environmental Model of Disability

The social or Environmental model explores how the built environment or social organization creates or constructs disability as a problem or issue. For example: The social model dictates that if there was change to structures and the way we did things disability would become an identity without stigma. For example the Social or environmental model would ask that every building be accessible rather than cure all who cannot stand.

The Cultural Model of Disability

The culture model subscribes to the same philosophies as the social model but, also identifies that people with disabilities have useful and interesting knowledge and perspective. That moving through the world with a disability produces a story or narrative. The cultural model seeks to understand disability on the same parallel as a gender identity or a race identity. For example the culture model believes that a life with a disability can produce interesting and valuable commentary about society.


The Inclusive Design Research Centre: - A great resource for work on inclusive design


Disability rights and wrongs revisited, by Tom Shakespeare, London, Routledge, 2013

Tom Shakesphere is one of the first authors to write about the social model of disability a great read for someone looking to learn more about the topic. This book is a Contemporary work and not his original theory.

Don't call me inspirational: a disabled feminist talks back, by Harilyn Rousso, Philadelphia, PA, Temple University Press, 2013

A personal memoir of growing up with a disability. The author holds in tension her individual struggles with the ones created by a society made for able bodied people. She also delves into life as a disability rights activist and the intersections it has with other forms of activism

Titchkosky, T. (2007). Reading & writing Disability Differently: The Textured Life of Embodiment. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

This book explores representations of disability as well as the social position of disability in Canadian society.

Michalko, R. (2002). The difference that disability makes. Temple University Press.

This book is a great example of the cultural model as it explores moving through the world with a disability from a critical perspective.

Twitter Accounts to Follow

@cdsa_acei - Twitter for members of the Canadian Disability Studies Association-Association Canadienne des Études sur l'Incapacité

@DS_Ryerson - The School of #DisabilityStudies is the first in Canada to offer a degree education that is strongly rooted in a #disability studies perspective.

@estherignagni - Associate professor, School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University

@NYCDisabilities - The Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities works hand-in-hand with other City agencies to assure that the voices of the disabled community are represented.


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