The manner in which a person interacts with someone with a disability is an outworking of their attitudes.
Understanding the ways disability has been understood can help us examine our own attitudes and to recognise the attitudes of others.
There are three main models of disability. These models characterise varying attitudes.
1. The Medical Model
The medical model perceives disability to be a medical condition. The focus is on treating a person to make them ‘normal’. If the person cannot be treated, they are excluded from society.
The focus is on treating the person.
2. The Charity Model
The charity model perceives disability to be something that people suffer from. It focuses on the care, protection and charity for people with disabilities. This model perceives people with disabilities to have little capacity to live full and independent lives.
The focus is on meeting the basic needs of the person.
Although these two models recognise some of the needs of people with disabilities, they are both flawed. They emphasise the impairment over the person.
3. The Social and Rights-Based Model
The social and rights-based model perceives disability to be a normal part of human diversity. It focuses on identifying and removing barriers so that people with disabilities can fully participate in life. This model still recognises the need for people with disabilities to access medical intervention, assistive devices, social protection and care, but the focus is to enable them to achieve their full potential.
Take time to think about your perceptions of disability. Which model best describes them? Have your perceptions of people with disabilities changed throughout your life?
Jesus’ interactions with those he healed are best described by the social and rights-based model. He perceived people with disabilities to be of dignity and autonomy. People with disabilities came to him; he didn’t insist his help on them. Jesus saw people beyond their disability. He addressed issues of the human heart such as faith (Mark 5:25–34) and witness (John 9:1–3).
The perceptions we hold regarding disability matter. Checking your attitudes and having robust conversations with others about attitudes regarding disability can be the first step to building a welcoming and inclusive Christian community for all.