Trinity and the Social Model of Disability

There are different ways of looking at disability. Typically, disability is viewed through the lens of the medical model. According to this model, people are disabled by their impairments. Disability is an individual problem that needs to be fixed via therapy and other medical intervention. The disabled person must learn how to function and fit in with a ‘normal’ society.

By contrast, the social model says that disability is created because of the environment. A disabled person is disabled because they live in a world which does not cater to their impairment. The onus is on society to change and adapt as opposed to the disabled person. For example, a Deaf student is not disabled by their Deafness but by the fact that information is not presented in an accessible way. A person who stammers is not disabled by their speech impediment but by society’s attitude regarding fluent speech.

One of the advantages of the social model is that it empowers us to change the disabling barriers in the environment. Because they are believed to originate in the environment they can be changed. This contrasts with the medical model, which can be disempowering for the disabled person, blaming their disability on an impairment which cannot be changed.

Trinity disAbility Hub opens in October 2022 in Printing House Square. This square the first new square in over a hundred years intends to be an inclusive space. Trinity Disability Service is committed to the Social Model of Disability. This is dynamic and effective in that it focuses on barriers and solutions to such barriers and, in doing so, maps out an approach to inclusion and equality that is of benefit to society, not just Disabled people.

The social model of disability and co-production share the same values. Disabled students are working together with university staff and decision-makers to actively identify, design, and evaluate policy decisions and service delivery that affect our lives and remove the barriers we face.

Our world is becoming increasingly diverse and ever more interconnected. Disabled people are not a homogenous group. We now have more access, we are now participating in university life, and we want to be more inclusive and belong.

To be fully engaged community members in the 21st century, we need to embrace diversity & inclusion. In the classroom, in the workplace, in clubs and societies – indeed, in all aspects of life – we must be able to navigate difference, develop empathy and continue to learn the value of engagement with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and perceptions.

What is the Social Model of Disability?

Disabled Intern, Ross Coleman, explains the social model of disability.

Identity and Language

Language and identity can be a sensitive subject with many people holding strong opinions. This is especially true when it comes to talking about disability. Here in the Disability Service, we use the term disabled student(s) as opposed to the term ‘student(s) with disabilities.’ This is because we subscribe to the social model. According to the social model, people are disabled by living in a society which does not cater to their impairment. These can take the form of environment barriers or disabling attitudes. For example, a neurodiverse person is disabled not by being neurodiverse but by societal structures which favour neurotypical people.

The term ‘disabled students’ reflects this model. It recognizes that disability is a result of people living in a disabling environment as opposed to something that is inherently wrong with the disabled person (as would be suggested by the medical model.) Having said this, we recognize that language is a personal choice and that students are free to use the language that best suits them. Our use of the term ‘disabled students’ simply reflects the philosophy of the Service and is by no means prescriptive.

Disability and Identity-First Language

In this video, Trinity INC Graduate Intern Ross Coleman explains why the Disability Service uses the term 'disabled students'.