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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Maine chapter.

The definition of a disability, in hindsight, is much more complex than a Merriam-Webster dictionary definition. Although there is certain medical terminology and classifications (the medical model), in everyday social use, it’s not as black or white as often assumed to be. Through various readings, I’ve begun to realize that the way we define disabilities is more of a social construct than a diagnosis. The social construct of a disability is almost inherently ableist. Since the beginning of time, differences and abnormalities have been the cause of destruction, hate, genocides, and prejudice. Unfortunately, this idea of disability being a social construct isn’t “out of thin air,” but rather rigorously deep-rooted. 

The medical model of disability is relevant to the sort-of Merriam-Webster dictionary definition previously mentioned. In a world (the medical world) where everything is scientifically and logically explained and understood, this makes sense. Medically, you have to be given a basis of a normal functioning human being in order to find simple/complex alterations and illnesses within a patient. The medical model often views disabilities as a defect within the patient, and in a world where your career is to find a problem and fix it, disabilities are often seen as needing to be cured or eliminated in some capacity. 

 Disability through the glasses of the social model is more relevant to how your disability affects your day to day life, and the social repercussions of improvisations. I recently watched a video following Sunaura Taylor, who was born with physical disabilities. She mentions how getting a drink at a coffee shop is almost harder with her improvisation (using her mouth to carry her drink), in comparison to just not getting her coffee, due to the discomfort it causes to the social world of people around her. The social model covers the basis of disability as restrictions imposed by society. Whether it’s physical, like not having a handicapped accessible bathroom stall, or social/emotional, like Sunaura Taylor’s example with her coffee cup, it explores how society has chosen to create a hierarchy of able-bodied beings. This has led those with impairments to feel lower on that scale. When exploring the social model, we begin to realize, this model is solely curated among only disabilities that can be seen. This leaves us to question, is being able to see a disability the only justification to actually having one? The two models of disability propose an important question: where are the fallacies and issues when defining disability? Both models have been developed under the understanding that all of those with disabilities should attempt to be altered into an able-bodied person, when in actuality, is this a valid assumption? Or should this idea be scratched entirely? In the medical world, there’s such a focus on fixing problems, there may be some issues in how we identify what is a problem to begin with. In the social model, we are born into ableism in multiple forms that we have the automatic response to look down upon or judge disabilities, purely out of misjudgment. Somewhere along the line, we forgot to identify those with invisible disabilities, and how they may feel invalidated by this system. The definition of a disability is created by all of us, through our social interactions with those who have differences than the “normal” body/mind, and by medical professionals who deem what is in the “normal” category.

Emilee Roy

U Maine '24

Hi! My name is Emilee and I am a junior biology student at the University of Maine. I love to write about various topics from personal growth/relationships to my studies, and even current events. In my free time you can find me cooking up a good meal, watching New Girl again, or listening to a philosophy podcast.