At Shape, all of our work is informed by our working to the Social Model of Disability. This was developed by disabled people to identify, and take action against, discrimination. It was devised as a direct challenge to the prevailing notion of disability as an individual, medical 'problem' with the focus on what the disabled person couldn't do because of their impairment. This approach, known as the 'Medical Model of Disability' was shown to be static and unhelpful.

The Social Model frames disability as a social construct created by physical, organisational and attitudinal barriers which can be changed and eliminated, providing a dynamic and positive model which identifies the problem and proposes a solution.

It moves away from a position of 'blaming' the individual for their shortcomings, argues that impairment is and always will be present in society, and suggests that the only logical outcome is to plan and organise society in a way that includes, rather than excludes, disabled people.

The Social Model makes a clear distinction between impairment (a condition, illness or loss/lack of function) and disability (barriers and discrimination).

The Social Model demonstrates that people from different impairment groups, far from having separate issues and interests, face common problems - such as lack of access to information and communication, environmental exclusion and discrimination in employment - and empowers them to find common solutions to remove these barriers.

The Social Model enables disabled people to express their situation in terms of human rights and as an issue of equality, challenging the traditional model that is premised on principles of care, cure and welfare.

The Social Model takes the focus away from impairment. It places responsibility on government, organisations, businesses and individuals across all sectors of society to identify and implement constructive changes to remove barriers and increase access. 

Below is a short summary of the difference between the Medical Model and the Social Model:

Medical Model Social Model
Individual Environment
What's wrong with you? What are the barriers?
Justification Information based on need

The disabled activist Vic Finkelstein is widely credited as the founder of the Social Model of Disability.  This link leads to his entry in Wikipedia, which you may find useful as a reference point:

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