Applying the Social Model of Disability in Field Practice

[Image description] Abstract mural outside with a turquoise face and orange lips. The word “EQUAL” appears in orange letters below the face.
Introduction: The social model of disability says that disability is caused by the way society is organized, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. An impairment is defined as long-term limitation of a person’s physical, mental or sensory function.

The Social Model looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives.

Disabled people developed the social model of disability because the traditional medical model did not explain their personal experience of disability or help to develop more inclusive ways of living.

Understanding how to apply the social model in fieldwork practice will lead to positive outcomes for disabled people and the various agencies that serve them.


Target Audience: This workshop is offered at no charge for college students heading into careers that interact with disabled people such as special education teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, nurses, medical students and social work practitioners.


Participants will be able to

  • Identify and describe the social model of disability.
  • Compare the social model of disability to other dominant models of disability such as the medical model.
  • Identify potential attitudinal, environmental and systematic barriers and create solutions to remove these barriers.


Tentative Workshop Agenda (1.5 -2 hours timing tailored to group needs):


What is disability? (group activity)

History of the social model (presentation)

Applying the social model to participant’s potential careers (group activity)

Describing Barriers and solutions (group activity)

Individual Reflection

Wrap up/conclusion


Workshop Facilitator: Alan Holdsworth, MA read more about him here.