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The Social Model of Disability

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About 150 million Americans correct their vision with glasses or contacts 1. If we assume that the US population is still around 330 million people, that’s 45% of the population is currently using assistive technology (glasses or contacts) to “correct” for their vision disability.

But if you walked up to the average glasses wearer and asked them if they were disabled, chances are pretty good they would say no. They don’t see themselves as disabled, despite the fact that the medical model of disability would consider them disabled.

There are many models of disability including medical, economic, and rights-based models 2 For the purposes of this site we use the social model of disability: that regardless of a person’s physical, sensory, psychological, or intellectual variations, they do not experience disability unless society fails to take account of them and include them regardless of their differences.

Our role

When we write for, design, and develop software, we are shaping the environment of that software for our end users. We are the architects of their experience.

If we build an application that can’t be used by keyboard, but only by a mouse, then we’re shaping that environment to only include people who can use a mouse. We’re excluding people with motor disabilities like Parkinson’s Disease and vision disabilities like Blindness and Deafblindness. The fact that they have tremors or low to no vision doesn’t prevent them from using our website.

The fact that we didn’t test our website and ensure it works on a keyboard is what causes their disability.

  1. Eye Health Statistics, American Academy of Ophthalmology[]
  2. Models of Disability: Types and Definitions, on Disabled World.[]