What is disability?

This is the first in a series of short blog posts sharing an overview of content explored on the Empowered Employers learning programme.
As part of the Empowered Employers campaign, we have been delivering a learning program for a range of employers across Gloucestershire. The learning program is unique in that it has been co designed by Jane Hatton (CEO of Evenbreak), Experts by Lived Experience, and commercial employers from across the county.
In the first of our miniseries, Jane Hatton describes what is meant by the social model of disability, in that a person is disabled by barriers including attitudes, environment and financial barriers.

Traditionally, disability has been viewed from a medical perspective. If someone differs from society’s view of ‘normal’ – maybe we look or behave differently, or have a different range of abilities – we are seen as a problem. We are seen as less able, deficient, problematic. We have something ‘wrong’ with us, and need ‘fixing’ so that we become closer to society’s perception of normal. If we can’t, or won’t, be ‘fixed’, society really doesn’t know what to do with us.

In the image below (a man in a wheelchair at the bottom of a flight of stairs), the medical model of disability described above would see the man as the problem. Most people could walk up those stairs, so he is the problem because he can’t.

A man in a wheelchair at the bottom of a flight of stairs

We can look at this same scenario from a social perspective. The man in the wheelchair isn’t the problem, the stairs are. If this building had lifts, or was all on one floor, the man would have the same access as everyone else. It’s not his wheelchair that disables him, it’s the stairs. This is an obvious example, but applies to all disabled people. We face barriers in society (inaccessible buildings, transport, technology, processes, attitudes, etc) which prevent us from fully participating. A blind person may struggle with badly-designed websites. A person with autism may struggle with out-of-date recruitment processes. And so on.

This social model is empowering for everyone. Disabled people stop being thought of as a problem to solve. And all of us can help remove disabling barriers, or offer alternative ways of doing something. A more accessible world is actually a better world for everyone.

As employers, we need to identify any potentially disabling barriers in our workplace – be they inaccessible technology, outdated attitudes, or anything else that may prevent people from accessing employment with you, or from buying or using your products or services.

Photo of Jane Hatton, CEO of Evenbreak

Jane Hatton