Social Model of Legal Disability

Disclaimer: I have not done sufficient research to see if this connection has been explored somewhere else. I put it here just to get it down on paper somewhere where I’ll remember it.

The Social Model of Disability

Disability theorists have long drawn the distinction between the medical model of disability and the social model of disability. The medical model of disability looks at disability exclusively as an individual condition, and solutions as primarily medical-technical therapies and assistive technology for that individual. The social model, while acknowledging there is some physical impairment, argues that it is the way society is organized that transforms this into a disability. For example, it may be that a person can’t climb stairs, but it is a social choice to build building that require this ability (e.g. by not having the entrance on the ground floor, not building an elevator, etc.).

Access to justice advocates could probably learn a lot by applying this theoretical model to marginalized people facing the justice system.

The Social Model of Legal Disability

It’s far more obvious that the accessibility of the justice system is the result of social decisions. Nevertheless, we still overwhelmingly favour clinical solutions that treat individualized problems to address access to justice. For instance, is a person’s lack of legal literacy solely a personal disability (e.g. their lack of legal information, education, etc.) or does it reflect something about the complexity of the system? Obviously both, and this is acknowledged by access to justice reports, but embedding this insight within a social model of disability offers a rallying framework to systematize the insight.

Is it really necessary?

I’m not sure if this already acknowledged insight really needs this theoretical framework to give it any more force. Nevertheless, an in-depth exploration of the analogy might reveal insights for both traditional accessibility advocates as well as access to justice advocates.