Disability Studies and the Teacher

Educational Theory, Inclusion, SEN



There are many ways to view disability dependent on your profession, your environment, your own personal history even your own local community. It is these factors which can lead to broad, subjective and manipulated views on disability, due to this I want to talk to you about the ways in which I developed my own understandings of disability from disability and how this has impacted me as a teacher.

There is no one right way to view disability but each model can have some serious drawbacks. I want to focus particularly on four models of disability I studied as part of my SEN specialism in my degree – the medical model, the social model, the deficit model and the rhizomatic model. The medical model is very cut and dry and seriously dull. It focuses on the symptoms and the labels of a disability. It has not changed in decades. The only positive from it is that as a teacher, it allows me to get the funding for my students so they can get what they need to. However, the medical model is very narrow minded and if a person’s disability does not fit the category for funding or a person does not have all the relevant characteristics of the relevant disability, then they are not disabled. I find this aspect as a teacher very hard to swallow because everyone should have the right to access any support necessary for them to learn and live at or even beyond their predetermined potential.

Now, let’s move on if you will, consider the medical model to be the right wing of society, then consider the social model to be the left wing. The social model is about all disabled people should have equal access and opportunities. This may seem the best model ever to describe disability. I am not certain it is for ONE big reason and that is that it does account for disabled people. What do I mean by this? I mean we have disabled people in a society for a reason, it may be that they cant physically or mentally reach the same opportunities as those without disabilities. Nevertheless it does not mean they can’t strive for goals, they may just be different.

This leads me nicely leads me onto the grey area of disability. It took me 3 years and counting to understand the murky world of deficit. This is all about the way in which we represent disability in society where disabled people are looked at as inferior or with a problem. I think it is very hard to ever truly grasp the right way to talk to someone without experience of that particular situation directly. This model is why there is always the even murkier area of political correctness hanging over the heads of teachers, because it is hard to not assume things about the student we teach. This is the reason I have the very Catholic rule of treat everyone like you want to be treated. If you wouldn’t say it to family, your child or even yourself then DO NOT BOTHER because they will probably get as mad if not madder than you would.

The next one is my favourite because it is most inclusive way to teach, the rhizomatic model. The rhizomatic model of disability is about  ‘an imminent transformation, an evolving of life in this ever-changing world’ (Kuppers, 2009). This is the one I use when I am teaching because it reminds me that each student sees the world differently and at a different rate, and I am here to help them grow and reach their potential whatever that may be in the right learning environment for them.

To sum up, disability is complex and as teachers it is very difficult to not be influences by societal views on disability, but I hope by reading this article you can understand that you are doing the best job you can. You may get it wrong occasionally but by just being aware of societal views, we can take a step forward towards a more positive view on disability.

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