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Monday, 3 September 2012

An Accommodation Too Far

How I Broke the Social Model

The Social Model of Disability [1] as first proposed, suggests that disability is

... the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organisation which takes little or no account of people who have physical impairments ...

This can be translated into standard English to read, in its simplest form

people with physical impairments are mainly disabled by society’s failure provide enough wheelchairs

whereas the Oxford English Dictionary says succinctly

a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities

A good example of the usefulness of the social model can be seen in the, fortunately now outdated, behaviour of special schools for the disabled [2]

... those disabled people who attended segregated schools may have gained lower academic qualifications than their non-disabled peers, simply because their ‘special’ school failed to provide a proper mainstream curriculum.

My mother caught polio

My mother caught polio when she was 15 years old. She spent more than a year in an iron lung before she recovered enough to breathe unaided.

She has ever since been in a wheelchair.
Mummy in the middle caught in her E&J Wheelchair at school
In about 1971 she was provided with a Mini 850, fitted with hand-controls and was able to take us three children to school in the morning and then go off to work as a telephonist for Griffin & George.

The company fortunately had a reception with big double doors her wheelchair could get through, and fortunately at the time, Society saw fit to provide her with a subsidised and adapted car.

A seriously disabled woman

A seriously disabled woman with State and an understanding employer’s help, was able, raise three children and hold down a job.

(If you’re wondering where my father was during this time, he was mainly on the run from the Army, in Florida with the leading actress from Bewitched).

So to reiterate, the Social Model proposes

that disability is a result of the barriers faced by people with impairments

The Skegness Butlins Sexy Legs competition

And that if one removes the barriers, by providing suitable “accomodations", for example adapting a motorcar to be driven with someone with no legs and providing wheelchair accessible workplaces, the person effectively ceases to be disabled (except of course, until they try to enter the Skegness Butlins Sexy Legs competition - but don’t mention that, it’s wrongthink that gets one expelled from the Crip Club).

As time went on, some non-mentally impaired people, decided that the mentally disabled deserved the same right to re-examine their “disabilities” in terms of a neo-Marxist model of societal oppression by a mentally privileged oligarchy. [3]

Created an idea they called Neurodiversity 

A little later, some actually mentally disabled people got in on the act and created an idea they called Neurodiversity [4] - and largely blamed the entirety of their impairments on the attitudes of “Neurotypicals”. [5]

OK, now lets try and apply this extension of the Social Model to me:

I have autism and I am described by Dr Zaman from the Specialist Learning Disability Service as having an

ASD [Autistic Spectrum Disorder] and major difficulty in social interaction...

... functioning is poor because of the developmental disorder and his lack of social skills, independent skills and communication difficulties...

Yeah, so far so good...

It was clear from the assessment that the behavioural symptoms, agitation and angry outbursts are associated with his ASD

OK, that’s a fair measure of my ‘disability’ - social interaction causes me major anxiety, I have very few social skills to call on when dealing with people, and I have trouble expressing myself, and often even talking is impossible.

Massacring passing country-folk

Consequently I often take out my frustration by screaming like a terrified animal, or smashing-up things, or if I’m having a really bad day, by firing up my chainsaw and massacring passing country-folk.

Drink cheap whisky, smoke strong dope

Actually, if I’m in a really bad mood, I drink cheap whisky, smoke strong dope and pop Lorazepam until I am unconscious and thus incapable of functional medievalism.

I know killing people is wrong, so I don’t go out on bad days.

“Where am I going?”

If I do go out on a Bad Day, the consequences for those around me are often not nice: the little old lady who brushes my arm as she terrifyingly sits next to me, is told to “fuck off”; the toddler opposite is petrified by the sight of the unkempt bus-stop looney rocking and a jabberin’ to himself as the sensory overload and anxiety propels his brain to an epileptiform ballet leaving him dribbling and distressed and asking the ever patient bus drivers “Where am I going?”

Stop oppressing me 

Listen up, people: give me my Wheelchair for the mind! Stop oppressing me with you lack of regard to my needs! Accomodated ME!

Don’t touch me, ever, even by accident. At best, I’ll swear at you, at worst, I’ll hit you.
Don’t take you kids out if they get upset by the sight of retards.
Don’t ever telephone me, ever. It scares the shit out of me and I won’t answer and it’ll take me hours to get over it.
Don’t knock on my door. FFS! Don’t ever, ever do that! It sends my blood pressure so high I see stars and I have to hide under the bed. (Unfortunately I am not exaggerating for theatrical effect).
Don’t ever expect me to reply to a tweet in less than a week. The last time you Tweeted me, desperate as I was for human contact, it scared me so much I couldn’t Tweet for days. And still haven’t managed to reply yet.
Don’t expect me to tell you that it’s a pretty dress when you look like a moose that’s had an accident in a curtain factory. I don’t do that socialising shit.

This list is not exhaustive, in fact, the briefing document for those care workers brave enough to visit me runs to about 3000 words...

Just going to have to accommodate me

And I’m sorry, you’re just going to have to accommodate me spitting in your face because you’ve accidentally invaded my personal space...

Are you feeling as uncomfortable as me about the atomic-powered, Golden Wheelchair the Social Model seems to propose?

Impalements from physical and mental illnesses

Over the years the Social Model has been refined into several sub-models including the biopsychosocial (BPS) model which attempts to view the impalements from physical and mental illnesses as having an exogenous source. [6]

The BPS model attracted the attention of American healthcare insurers, and one, UNUM has made it a central plank of their strategy in dealing with insurance claims from sick and disabled people. [7]

The idea is that the impact of an illness on a person isn’t just a result of the purely medical elements. Physical (e.g. disease, joint damage), psychological (e.g. disposition, anxiety) and social factors (e.g. work demands, family support) also play an important role.

An excuse to stop work and claim for expensive treatment

In practice it means that the company views all potential claims as being from malingerers attempting to use their terminal cancer as an excuse to stop work and claim for expensive treatment that isn’t likely to save them anyway. [8][9]

The tale of how the Social Model mutated and how UNUM influenced the work of the company tasked with the governments monumental welfare reforms, ATOS Healthcare has been well documented by others. [10]

Even in its most ethical and pure form the Social Model seems to leave me a little out in the cold, while the BPS model puts me at Ground Zero of the government’s determination to end this “something for nothing culture” of wheelchairs and adapted cars. [11]

[1] The Social Model of Disability. Grant Carson
[3] ‘Learning Difficulties’, the Social Model of Disability and Impairment: challenging epistemologies. Dan Goodley
[6] The clinical application of the biopsychosocial model. Engel GL
[7] UNUM and BPS Model
[8]"My Job Was to Terminate and Deny Claims," says Former Unum Claims Handler
[9] Suit Says Insurer Wrongly Denied Disability Claims
[10] A tale of two models
[11] Even the dying will work


  1. The most abstract expressions of the social model would claim to accommodate your concerns - for example, by society enabling the full participation of people without forcing them to have contact with people. It's a bit of a stretch.

    Sometimes, I feel like the devotion to the social model in some areas verges on the religious. The only bit I'm comfortable considering as fairly universal is the suggestion of separating the idea of 'impairment' (reduction or alteration in function compared to what is typical) from 'disability' (social disadvantage connected to impairment) - and that reducing disability is separate from reducing impairment. It's hard to insist on everyone using the terms that way, though, when virtually no-one outside of disability discourse, and that mostly British, uses them that way with any strictness or consistency.

    The worst part is that expressions of discomfort with the social model, like this blog post, usually end up met with "but you just dont understand the social model properly". Well, that may or may not be so - why assume it is? And if it's that hard to understand, what's the hope of expanding it's use beyond dedicated disability discourse?

    However, don't blame the social model for BPS quackery - that's the BPS idiots trying to claim it as cover, nothing that's actually connected to the model itself.

  2. Being fundamentally a social animal, Man suffers it seems to me an almost undeniable impairment that really does demand from them an accommodation too far. However, it has to be said that although autism accounts for a lot of my basic behaviours, the triggers tend to be conditioned responses from years of abuse and bullying. The accommodation required in this case is simply that the human race stops acting like the bald, bad ass monkeys they actually are. And I think that may be impossible.

    Definitions did trouble me at the start of this brief essay, but I was determined not to be shanghaied by the Birmingham University School of Never Actually Getting Down to the Point.

    Yes, I fully expected the shortcomings in my understanding becoming the stick with which to beat me. I'm ready and waiting for the blows...

    BPS Camouflage - Corporate America at its finest.

    1. The first paragraph is mashed. I'm guessing I'm having a fit and it's smashed my grammar or syntactical cortex :(

  3. You are still a great supporter on line and brilliant person for telling it like it is.

  4. And I have really appreciated your efforts as AFTER ATOS. WOT A YEAR!!

    Xxx Aunty