"It is not simply the shared experience of oppression. If that were all our culture was, I would agree with those who doubt the probability of a disability culture. The elements of our culture include, certainly, our longstanding social oppression, but also our emerging art and humor, our piecing together of our history, our evolving language and symbols, our remarkably unified worldview, beliefs and values, and our strategies for surviving and thriving."
Carol Gill
Disability Studies Scholar and Activist

Understanding the social and medical models of disability

The social model defines disability as the decisions that society makes about what makes bodies and minds valuable. Society's ideas then lead to decisions about physical spaces, technologies, laws, and policies. Those spaces, laws, and policies often exclude and discriminate against people whose minds and bodies function differently. The social model goes beyond the original medical model of disability by saying if a person is unable to climb a set of stairs, the focus is not on how to fix the person, but rather on how to fix the environment around them. The person isn't the problem - society's definition of how a person should get to the next level of a building is.

The medical model of disability has its benefits. Without it, we would not have treatments for auto-immune diseases, migraines, etc. The most successful assistive technology relies on the medical model's focus on individual needs - eyeglasses. In addition, the medical model allows disabled people who can't work due to serious health issues the ability not to do so, whether the person needs to take a short term or a long term leave. However, the medical model has rippled into everything society does to the point that people look to bolt on access needs or treat the community as a costly burden rather than rethink societal constructs.

If taken too far, the medical model can also focus too much on fixing disabled people to the point of trying to erase identity, culture, and the community as a whole. Examples within United States history where non-disabled people tried to erase disability culture or community include Alexander Bell's suppression of sign language (which had long lasting impacts on the Deaf community) and the sterilization of disabled people from the early 1900s to the 1960s.

Understanding the full range of disabilities

In order to build an inclusive environment (recreational, work, educational, etc.), we must understand the range of people we are excluding with existing barriers. There are several categories of disabilities and a long list of conditions within each category. It's important to note that a disabled person can have more than one disability and thus identify with more than one disability community identified below. 

Disability Culture

Disability culture gives disabled people a sense of identity and belonging. Society is constructed in a way in which it individualizes disability and isolates disabled people. Even the word disability is often avoided by non-disabled people. The disability community continues to evolve and build a culture that promotes disability pride and positivity by creating slogans and merchandise, such as "Disability is not a bad word," creating Disability Cultural Centers at universities, ensuring actual representation in films and tv shows, such as As We See It, and authoring books, such as Demystifying Disability, with the goal to break down stigmas. Disability culture continues to change and continues to grow stronger, but the disability community also needs non-disabled people to address their own personal biases to achieve true disability inclusion.