A Puzzle in Five Pieces: Models of Disability

A Puzzle in Five Pieces: Models of Disability

Scott Rains, srains@oco.net


Scott P  Rains.jpg

Try a radically new motto: "Disability doesn't make invalids. Models do."

 There are four models for framing and understanding disability each named for its fundamental point of reference: Each seeks to clarify different set of observations and solve the unique sets of problems they suggest. Significantly, the only model developed by the community of persons with disabilities is the third, the Social Model, yet each one has its limits when taken in isolation:

      •  The Charity Model
      • The Medical Model
      • The Social Model
      • The Economic Model 

The problem with the Charity Model of Disability in isolation is that it contains no internally consistent restraint on compulsion.

The problem with the Medical Model of Disability in isolation is when it prescribes a cure even where a conversion is the more therapeutic outcome.

The problem with the Social Model of Disability in isolation is when the power of its critique fails to be matched by the critical thinking of its practitioners. 

The problem with the Economic Model of Disability in isolation - aside from still being incompletely defined - is that rationally self-interested actions by those systematically marginalized from the global economy tend to be radically destabilizing.

Schmaltz - keening, doting, emotionally-hobbling, and cloying intrusiveness was the fare of the master of the compulsive Charity Model's impulse - comedian Jerry Lewis. or decades the disability community reacted with revulsion, indignation, and fury. Arguably the surgical precision of the Social Model of Disability's tools were sharpened in fencing with such institutions of "Patronization Gone Wild." This happened even as people with disabilities left, en masse, those religious institutions that held the historic claims to authentic expressions of charity whether bundled as justice, agape, satyagraha, dana, or, yes, the true jihad.

For all his charm and personal generosity Christopher Reeves, of Superman fame, perpetuated the manic pursuit of cure at all costs. A super-crip legacy fed by desperation to return to some pre-trauma self-identity as "normal" is a thin mask. The fall from denial of the reality of one's limits can be faster than a speeding bullet when the latest breakthrough protocol or prosthetic fails to rescue. The Medical Model, operating without the Social and Economic Models, runs the risk of turning out brilliant but stigmatizing and unmarketable assisstive devices when it fails to start from the premises of Universal Design's inclusiveness.

Even reading only the debates in English those claiming allegiance to the Social Model of Disability can appear to be "two nations divided by a common language." However the model is formulated, and however it situates Universal (or Inclusive) Design within its intellectual framework, the Social Model's silence on economics is a vulnerability in a globalized economic downturn. It's presumption of a shared baseline sense of justice is bolstered by the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) but implementation of such high ideals depends on countering ideologies that slash social safety nets in the name of fiscal for those already enfranchised.

With three models of disability unable to stand on their own do we need a fourth - an Economic Model of Disability? Certainly not in isolation. As globalized competitiveness makes redundant the labor of people with disabilities those with the power of production still refuse to recognize their own economic self-interest in mainstreaming the consumer with a disability through appropriate products, services, marketing, and accessibility of retail outlets.

A paradigm shift of classical proportions would offer a radical break with these four models. It would build on their legitimate contributions to our knowledge and practice while launching off in an as-yet-unknown positive direction.

Until we have a fifth paradigm-shifting or Unified Model of Disability to prompt such a revolution I suggest roots revisitation

Charity Model: What are the classical core values of the world's dominant religions and spiritualities with regard to charity in general and disability specifically? Equally as important, what are the core values of the sub-dominant, even oppressed, spiritualities that have shared marginalization yet survived to this day? 

Hint: There will be living expressions of those values embodied in their practices of hospitality.

Medical Model: What is the growth edge where medicine confronts the limits to "cure" as limited to an individual organism? How can designers of assisstive medical devices combine market-appealing status and style with ease of integration to standard products to enhance both and grow markets while erasing the stigma of diversity of human functionalities? 

Hint: Institutions like Italy's Carlo Besta National Neurological Institute are pursuing Inclusive Tourism as management of chronic conditions - the defining medical issue of global aging and the population inversion.

Social Model: With implementation of the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as the order of the day in all countries that have ratified it how do Disabled People's Organizations (DPO's) morph into trusted policy advisors to government and business while not losing their organic connection to their constituencies? What is sustainable inclusion of persons with disabilities? 

Hint: The Paralympics exemplified the spirit of Article 30 of the CRPD on sport, leisure, and tourism. The temporarily unifying power of major sporting events is well illuminated as one case study in All Things Shining. Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly as they offer a critique of what amounts the denial of the core insight of disability - our interdependence. Also watch for experiments with the Social Model inspired by Article 30 permeating Brazil's grassroots preparations for the 2014 FIFA soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Economic Model: Still incomplete as a model how will the irrational exuberance of recent years stand up against the stifling self-protective behavior of the economically privileged (often synonymous with the Temporarily Able-Bodied) in the completed model? 

Hint: As the Economic Model of Disability moves from being descriptive to being predictive watch for it to absorb insights gleaned from the Charity, Medical, and Social Models.

Dr. Scott Rains writes daily on disability, travel, and Universal Design at www.RollingRains.com and on Facebook.



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