Conceptual Models
Myths and Realities

Moral Model

This model views disabilitiy as linked to sin and evil. (Mackelprang and Salsgiver, 1999) While this view

Myth: Disability in one area of functioningimplies disability in another area

Reality: Disability in onearea, such as phsycial disability, does not meanthat a person has otherdisabilities, such asmental impairment

Administration for
Children and Families

was popular during through the Middle Ages, there is evidence of its existence today. Some may point
to biblical references, believing that disabilitiy is a "punishment from God" for the immoral acts of their
parents. This view perpetuates discrimination.
Medical Model
This model views disability as a biological (pathological) condition. The disability is located within the
person (not caused by the enviornment). This view perpetuates the concept of the person with a disability
as "sick" and dependent on medical services.
Social Role Valorization
Social Role Valorization (SRV) is described as "a high level and systematic schema, based on social role
theory, for addressing the plight of people who are devalued by others, and especially by major sectors  
of their society" (Wolfensberger, 2000). The roots of SRV can be found in normalization concepts.
Since people with disabilities are included as a population found to be devalued by society, SRV is applied
to "upgrade the perceived value of the roles sych persons already occupy, and/or to extricate such persons
from devalued roles" (Wolfensberger, 2000).
Social Role Valorization holds that certain groups of people experience social discrimination and prejudice
which leads to nagtive life experiences. Groups vulnerable to social discrimination include people with
disabilities and/or body characteristics negatively perceived by society, people who exhibit atypical behavior,
people who live below the poverty line, and people who do not have skills that are valued by society.
Negative life experiences include rejection or ridicule, stigmatization, segregation, limited choices,
dehuminazation, loss of individual identity, and poverty. These individuals are more likely to be placed in
segregated settings engaging in unconstructive activities. Social role valorization seeks to support valued
roles for people with disabilities and eliminate stereotypes and other negative life experiences. Examples
include assuring that people engage in age-appropriate, constructive activities; moving away from the view
of people with disabilities as medically fragile or sick; treating people with dignity and respect and not as
objects, cases, or targets of ridicule; and eliminating the view of poeple with disabilities as menaces.

Social/Minority Model

  This model includes the social constructionist view discrimination view, and independent living movement.
(Macelprang & Salsgiver, 1999) The view is that disabilitiy is created by societal definition rather than by a
particular condition. The independent living movement emphasizes competence, self-respect, equality,
and self-determination.
The Disability Discrimination Model
by Gary May
The Disabilitiy Discrimination Model is designed to give progessional social workers a way to conceptualize
disability so that their work can play a role in the transformation of how people with disabilities are treated
in our society. The guiding principle of this text is that disability-related impairment is a social construction
rather than an immutable, objective reality. Impairment operates as a set of beliefs supported by theories
and practices within socety so that deviations from normative expectations in physical and biological
construction are defined as limiting and excluding. The Disability Discrimination Model proposes
atheoretical model along with a set of practice principles upon which social workers can restructure their
The Disability Discrimination Model necessitates acceptance of an understanding of disability where
"disability" and "impairment" are not inherently linked. This theory asserts that the concepts of disability
and impairment are socially constructed, and that the "facts" concerning the consequences of disabilitiy are
not immutable, objective realities, but merely affirmations or a pejorative and stereotypic perspective.
Pfeiffer (JDPS 2000) has stated that "In a flexible social sustem which fully accomodates a person with a
disability, the disability disabppears." This view precludes the simultaneous existence of a disability,
which may be defines as the presence of an appearance or functional characteristic that is a departure from
normative expectations, and positive connotations that might be associeated with the label "disabled" By so
doing, this perspective implicitly validates the traditional medical model where a disability is a negative
aberration that becomes the focus of preventive or remedial intervention.
The Disability Discrimination Model contends that being labeled "disabled" is no different from being
labeled "female," "African American", "Hispanic" or any other nominal distinction, but for the consequences
of the label. Historically people with disabilites, unlike these other groups, have not been socialized to
experience pride pride and postive connotation with the label "disabiled". We believe that proud, positive
connotations can and do accompany the label "disabled" except under conditions where the consequences of
the label areconstructed as negative, limiting, and pejorative. Consequently, the fact that I have bilateral
above the knee amputations (deviation from appearance and functional norms) does not mean that I cannot
be proud of my total being including that portion of my body and functionality that is appropriately labeled
As Pfeiffer (2000) suggests, a hospitable environment that accomodates my appearance and functional
deviations (read disability), is desirable, but the asbence of such an accomodating environment does
not mean that I move from a non-disabled state to a disabled state. The absence of such necessary and
desirable accommodations merely suggests that the socially constructed environment causes impairment. I
may still proudly mantain the label "disabled" in either instance.
In the prevously cited examples of women, African Americans, Hispanics, and others, we do not insist
that relinquish identity or proud adherence to the labels that connote their group's deviation from the
ordinary. Nor do we suggest that they no longer occupy a role and status within their labeled group if they
experiencean accomodating social system. Indeed, great effort is expended to insure that everyone
understands thevalue of diversity (read deviation) in contemporary U.S. culture. Not so when disabilitiy is
the issue. Here,the focus is on restoring the person labeled disabled so they no longer deviate from
normative expectations. There is no systematic effort to identify sources of pride or to instill positive
connotations on being"disabled".
The implications for social workers and other intentional helpers are profound and requrie a "working
with "orientation with the disabled client v.a. "working on" orientation. From this working with perspective,
the client sustem is not merely the collection of difficulties or clinical sumptomatology, but is one
component of an interactive sustem that may produce impairment. Solutions, then, are not to be found
solely in the person with the disability, but in the larder social environment.
Decisions about what needs to be done and who should do it are reached through collaboration and
consultation not merely clinical practice or psychotherapy. The Disability Discrimnation Model asserts that
the "client" system is victimized by poor quality social interaction, not by their personality or behavioral
The Disability Discrimination Model makes an essential distinction betweem disability and impairment and
views impairment as a socialy constructed phenomenon. From this perspective, disability becomes disabling,
or impairment, where an observed or perceived atypical appearance or functional characteristic intersects
with a negative, stereotypic, limiting expectation set. Typically, the possessors of the atypical appearance
or functional characteristics are labeled "disabled", and the holders of the negative, steroptic, limiting
expectations are labeled "non-disabled". Such a depiction allows the person witha dsiability to continue to
"own" and even celebrate the disability, and implicitly, membership in the disability culture and explains
deferential treatment, and limiting elements of the social and physical environment.
Interventions are enacted in a broader field and necessarily include the important human elements of the
client's experience. These other important human elements will need to be education about the importance
that they have in the quality of life of the client. Resistance to this novel perspective is likely, as the
influence of the traditional victim blaming perspective is substantial.
Explanatory Legitimacy Theory
In their book, Rethinking Disbility (Brooks/Cole, 2004), Depoy and Gilson define disability as a contextually
embedded, dynamic grand category of human diversity. Thus, who belongs and what responses are
afforded to category members are based on differential, changing, and sometimes conflicting judgments
about the value of explanations for diverse human phonomena. This apprach to defininf disability differs
from previous schemes in which disability was determined by the presence of a medical condition that
caused permanent limitations in one's daily function. Explanatory legitimacy theory makes the distinctions
among descriptive, explanatory and the axiological or the legitimacy dimensions of the categorization of
human diversity and identifies the relationships among these elements. Thus, disability analyzed through the
lens of explanatory legitimacy is comprised of the three interactive elements: description, explanation, and
legitimacy, is comprised of the three interactive elements: description, explanation, and legitimacy.
Description emphasizes the full range of human activity (what people do and do not do and how they do
what they do), appearance, and experience and is comprised on two intersecting dimensions (typical/atypical
and observable/reportable). Typical involves activity, appearance, and experience as most frequently
ocurring and expected in a specified context. Atypical referes to activity, appearnace, and experience outside
of what is considered to be typical.
Oberservable phenomena are activities and appearance which fall under the rubric of thouse which can be
sensed and agreed upon. Reportable phenomena are experiences which can be known through inference
To illustrate the two axes, the use of wheeled device for mobility would be observable and atypical for
young adults, but would be observable and typical for infants. Pain would be reportable sicne it can not be
directly observed and verified.
Explanation is the set of reasons for atypical doing, appearance, and experience. Explanation provides the
basis on which one judges eligibility for category membership. For example, "homeless" is a description of
one's living situation and may have many explanations. However, it the explanation is drug addiction, the
response may be difference than if the explanation is the experience of abuse and oppression or even if
the explanation is the experience is Hurricane Katrina. Relative to disability, Depoy and Gilson look at
medical-diagnostic explanations and constructed explanations. Medical explanations view descriptive atypical
phenomenon from a pathology perspective. This explanatory model, locating the explanation within an
individual, might beget treatment and rehavilitation as a response. Constructed explanations identify
the explanation for atypical description as a set of limitations imposed in inidividuals (with or even without
diagnosed medical conditions) from external factors such as social cultural, economic, political, and other
environmental influences.
The target for change from this explanatory perspective is the social environment since the disabling
factors are not seen as located within individuals. From a constructed perspective, concepts of self-
determination, inclusion, power, and justice become important. The authors note that "one may be
disabled by a legitimatemedical-diagnostic, social barrier, or political powerless explanation."
Legitimacy is defined as "the set of differential judgments that place explanations for atypicality within or
outisde of disability status". "Disability is determined not by the explanation but by the set of beliefs, value
judgments, and expectations attributed to the explanation." Legitimacy can come from outside the individual
in such forms as medical, legal and policy determinations that one is a member of the disability category.
This type of legitimate membership on the category of disability may determine one's eligibility for
treatment, medical benefits, protection under non discriminationlaws or eligibility for various programs and
services. Determinations for "eligibiliy" for the death penalty and rationales for abortion or assisted suicides
are effected by value judgments related to disability. Legitimacy can also come from within - how one
identifies oneself. Related to this explanation are self-determination, and disability studies.
Explanatory Legitimacy Theory can be applied to professional practice, social change, and social justice.
The authors emphasize that "the primary purpose of professional activity should be the improvemnet
of experience and social justice within the diversity of people and communities.


Depoy, E. & Gilson, S. (2004). Rethinking Disability. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Mackelprang & Salsgiver, R. (1999). Disability: A Diversity Model Approach in Human Service Practice.
Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
May, G. & Raske, M., (2005). Ending Disability Discrimination. Boston: Pearson.
Wolfensburger, W. (2000). A brief overview of social role valorization. Mental Retardation. (38, 2),
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