Posted by: MandyS | October 3, 2011

The penny finally drops…

As an advocate, one learns from a very early stage “never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer.”

Working from that standpoint, the module team are clearly not going to ask a question if it does not have some relevance.

I have been troubled by the last few sentences of Activity 8.1, in particular “think about whether any of them is using a medical model.” Why? because I thought university policy was based on the social model.  I was obviously missing something but wasn’t sure what, which led me to conclude my understanding of the application of the models was somewhat lacking. I then read a fellow student’s reflection that their university’s model was a medical model as there was the general feeling that ‘we did what we had to do (e.g. providing lecture notes online 24hrs beforehand, gave extra time in exams etc).’ As a result, I trawled the ‘net’. I came across this interesting website, although I am not quite sure how up-to-date the information is. One of the purposes of the site appears to be to provoke discussion about certain issue relating to disability (how appropriate) and it was on reading this article that the penny finally dropped. Trawling a bit further, I came across this in the DEMOS training pack (ironic, as I had already seen this in Topic 7 but my brain had clearly not registered its importance):

Comparison of the social and medical models of disability in University

I also found this website and, although it is from the University of Melbourne, the ‘Comment’ part is particularly relevant to this discussion.

So the penny has finally dropped; although universities appear to be committed to the social model, some aspects of their support are still intrinsically linked with the medical/welfare model. The most notable being the DSA; this provides support which helps the student overcome their limitations but the support  is focused on the disability as being the issue.

As far as the case studies are concerned, are any of them using a medical model? A fellow student suggests that certain students in the case studies have a “‘medical model lens’ i.e. feels disabled rather than seeing how his surroundings are disabling.” This is a point which is also picked up by a student from another group in identifying Ruth’s comment: “normally people haven’t seen it before and that’s quite awkward because you spend the first 10 minutes explaining what it is’ indicates her frustration and resignation to reverting to the medical model.” The answer is therefore, yes. Disclosure appears to be an acceptance of the medical model; if it were society making the person disabled, disclosure would not be necessary. Without disclosure, it is difficult to individualise the necessary support. As Melbourne University suggests, although it is for the University to remove arbitrary barriers to promote ‘personal and intellectual growth and development of students’ this can only be maximised by ‘active adaptation to university life.’ In other word, it is a two-way street dependent on disclosure.   

I would tend to agree with the ‘comments’ of Melbourne University: ‘strict adherence to either the medical or social model devalues both the student experience (to grow) and denies the University the opportunity to adapt and incorporate universal design principles.’ As far as HE is concerned, although the social model should take the dominant role in policy, the two models have to operate concurrently to promote the level-playing field required.


DEMOS Project (2002) Institutional Models [online], (accessed 27 September 2011)

Houghton, A., Armstrong, J. and McDonnell, L. (2006) ‘Institutional Disability PolicyAnalysis DP1’ DEIP Disability Effective Inclusive Policies (accessed 29 September, 2011)

The University of Melbourne: Services for Students Disability Liaison (2011), Models of Disability [Online] (accessed 29 September, 2011)


  1. Thank you Amanda,
    This post has been extremely useful with regard to the Medical and Social Models and which is actually being implemeted. The Penny Drops as you put it.

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