Autism and the social model of disability
Is the Social Model of Disability appropriate for people on the autistic spectrum?
Disability legislation a provision hinges on what's called the SOCIAL MODEL. It was apparently created by disabled people themselves (or were they simply prompted down this route in a series of consultations?). Instead of looking at disability as an individual disadvantage or limitation, we now look at how society creates barriers and by making what are termed "reasonable adjustments" an environment is created where disabled people have an equal chance of leading their lives as able people.
The new language approaches disability as difference of ability and refers to disabilities as "significant impairments". We aren't allowed to use language which otherwise appears to discriminate, such as cripple or lunatic. We are now expected to say that someone is significantly impaired in an aspect of their lives.
What the social model endeavours to do is to remove the barriers to disabled people engaging in society. So people in wheelchairs can access buildings and transport by means of ramps, and emergency procedures in event of fire, for example, must take disabled people into account.
In education and other contexts where information is transferred, we are expected to use 14 point fonts, sans serif texts, and matt paper to ameliorate the high reflectivity of white paper. (Even though some people prefer serifs, or need blue paper)
What is less often realised is that this generalises disability. It takes away the individuality of experience, on the principle that it is no longer about individuals with limiations but a society that endeavours to break down the barriers by means of "reasonable adjustments" - or otherwise using the very ambiguous metaphor "a level playing field".
What this is doing is absolving society from having to address the needs of the individual. The Autistic Spectrum is very individual in its manifestations, and the range of impairments would be very difficult to encompass b means of general reduction in barriers.
So under the Social Model the government is trying to reduce payments to disabled people - which conveys the message that an individual needs help. "Leading Rewarding and Fufilling Lives" is actually about barrier reduction. But is that appropriate to autistic spectrum conditions?
In education I've frequently come up against the idea that once a disabled person has been assessed and given an allocation of reasonable adjustments (more time in exams, handouts on matt paper with sans serif text etc), that's all that now has to be done. I've therefore been told I canniot make any more adjustments for a person on the spectrum, irrespective of the specific needs for that individual, because he or she has been allocated their quota of reasonable adjustments, and any further measures would unfairly advantage that student over able students!
Is autism being ill-served by the social model of disability? I think it is. I think NAS needs to look at the Autism Act to determine whether the provisions are about individuual needs or generalised reduction in barriers.
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