The social model

The social model of disability was designed by Michael Oliver (1983), building on the work of the Union of Physically Impaired Against Segregation (1976), and developed by fellow disabled activists.

It is a tool to focus collective responsibility on the disabling restrictions and inequalities that prevent people with impairments from meeting human needs. This approach could be extended to focus resistance on the disabling restrictions imposed on people subject to asylum and immigration controls.

A social model approach could bring together the insights and experiences of the disabled people’s movement, people subject to asylum and immigration controls, and allies.

This approach could help focus resistance on addressing the injustice of current restrictions, and instead demand that services are provided on the basis of need and common humanity.

At a practical level, when working well, both sectors routinely address particular access needs. The disabled people’s movement routinely adapts and combines approaches to address the access barriers faced by people with different forms of impairments. Similarly, asylum voluntary sector organisations are accustomed to acknowledging and addressing access barriers relating to migration status, language, and cultural differences. If combined, there could be greater scope for learning from and focussing resistance on the restrictions faced by disabled people in the asylum system.

See also this blog post on disablement and resistance in the British immigration system

Section of the Bristol mural showing a woman sitting in a wheechair which is chained
Manjeet Kaur said of the mural that represents her experience: ‘The wheelchair is chained… I feel restricted by the UK Border Agency, I am not free to do anything.’

UK disabled people’s movement

The disabled people’s movement in the UK use the term disabled people to include:

people with physical, cognitive, and sensory impairments, people with learning difficulties; people who are neuro-diverse; Deaf people, deafened, hard of hearing people, mental health system survivors/people who experience mental distress and people with long term health conditions.

(See for example: Reclaiming our Futures Alliance (ROFA))

Taking a social model approach, it is argued that 'it is the economic, social, cultural, physical, and attitudinal barriers operating in society that disable and exclude people with impairments'. Therefore, people are disabled, rather than having disabilities.

This choice of language is not to exaggerate distinctions from campaigners in other countries who use the term ‘people with disabilities’.

See the Network page for thoughts on building a network of people with experience of disability and migration.