What is handicap?

It is generally accepted in society that people with disabilities generally have fewer opportunities and lower quality of life than people without disabilities. Every action taken to deal with the difficulties experienced by people with disabilities (or to remove these difficulties completely) depends on what is considered the cause of these difficulties. Basically, there are two different ways to explain what is causing the difficulties and the use of ‘models’ can illustrate them.

Social and medical model

The traditional model of access to people with disabilities focused on the disadvantages of persons with disabilities and individual approach. This model is called the medical model and sees the handicap as a ‘personal problem’ that limits the ability of a person with disabilities to participate in the mainstream of society.

‘There is a tendency to place the handicap in medical frameworks and social assistance frameworks, identifying persons with disabilities as sick, different from their peers without handicap and those who need care. Since emphasis is placed on the medical needs of persons with disabilities, the disregard of their wider social interests is accordingly a consequence. The result is a strong isolation of people with disabilities and their families.

In 1976, the ‘Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation’ gave the first definition of a social model that opposed the medical classification. This definition refers only to people with physical impairments and in 1981 it was extended to sensory (and other) types of disabilities from the “Disabled Peoples’ International”. The social model of access to the handicap placed the problem in social frameworks and defined it as: “A handicap is a loss or limitation of opportunities to participate in the daily life of the community, equally with others, due to physical and social barriers.”

Principles of a medical model in comparison with the principles of the social model

Where is the problem?
Medical Model: In a person with a disability and lack of ability
Social model: In the environment, the process of rehabilitation, social and political conditions and limitations

How to solve the problem?
Medical Model: Expert treatment of doctors and other specialists. Certain people and organizations are also concerned about people with disabilities
Social model: By helping a person help himself, socializing, self-organization, overcoming psychological, social and other obstacles.

What is the role of a person with disabilities in society?
Medical model: Patient, client, dependent family member
Social model: User, participant, person involved in decision making

Who is competent to solve the problem?
Medical Model: Other people (experts, therapists, family)
Social model: The person with a handicap.

What is the expected result?
Medical Model: Healing or permanent housing in institutions
The social model: the life that a person chooses, the ability to organize and accept assistance directed to her needs
In addition to the above, during the history, other models that are mainly based on the “guilt” of a person with disabilities or their families can be distinguished and they advocated, as well as a medical model, the action to change the person with disabilities – moral, merciful, rehabilitative and other models observed in some cases and as variations of the medical model).

More recently, there are criticisms of the social model, which discuss the need to take into account the specificity of personal qualities (which in this case point out as an important, if not the primary factor that influenced the formation of the personality of the person with a disability) and their interaction with the environmental factors in establishing constraints in the daily life of a person with disabilities.

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