Disability History Month 2022: Disability, health and wellbeing – Part 1

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By Ghizzi Dunlop, Learning technologist, Co-Chair of the Disabled Staff Network and UWE Accessibility Champions Network

 UK Disability History Month 2022


Our individual disability experience very much depends on perception. Models are a way that we think about this. The medical model is the societal norm, though this is changing. It views disability as the disabled person’s problem. Their difference is the problem, it is a medically diagnosed problem. Something is wrong with them.

The difficulty with this model is that it:

(a) doesn’t recognise the disabilities caused by the way we do things in society.

(b) It defers to medical diagnosis as the only determinant of disability. What we don’t know about health, disability and medical conditions far outweighs what we do know. What we know changes as we learn more. Our knowledge and responses to health challenge are dynamic. Our learning is constant, so it is a poor model for determining disability.

UWE has adopted the Social model of disability.

The Social model says that people are disabled by barriers in Society. Not by their impairment or difference.


  • Prevent people having the opportunity to get involved
  • Limit people from achieving the best of their ability
  • Block people from completing a task or activity completely


These barriers can be physical. Buildings not having accessible ramps, toilets or lifts.


They can be digital barriers. Websites that aren’t keyboard navigable. Documents that aren’t structured with Headings and Styles. Hyperlinks that don’t say what they are or where they will take you when you click them. Or no Alt Text for image content.


All the barriers so far are a consequence of the biggest cause of barriers – peoples’ attitudes. The classic example is assuming that as disabled people we can’t do certain things.

The assumptions we make, we build into what we create and how we behave in the form of barriers.

1. Assumptions we make about peoples’ bodies, physical, mental, emotional and social abilities.

2. Assumptions we make about peoples’ environment and situations, (physical, digital, social, economic).

The Social Model is a lens, that helps us to recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people. Removing these barriers enables equality of access. It offers disabled people more independent choice and control. As disabled people, we want those capabilities as much as everybody else. We are still human beings. We want to be able to control as much of what we do in life as we can, as all people do. We do also need to be aware that not every disabled person, chooses to use the social model and that’s okay. How anyone chooses to talk about their health or disability is up to them. Listening to us is the important thing.

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