The personal tragedy theory of disability, Mike Oliver, and the social model

In 1976, a group of activists known as the Union of Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS), introduced a set of terms intended to counter medicalized definitions of disability.  While the medicalized definitions previously articulated were ultimately reducible to individual pathology, the UPIAS definitions locate the “causes” of disability within society and social organization. The UPIAS defined disability in this way:

Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society. Disabled people are therefore an oppressed group in society. To understand this it is necessary to grasp the distinction between the physical impairment and the social situation, called ‘disability,’ of people with such impairment. Thus, we define impairment as lacking part of or all of a limb, or having a defective limb, organ or mechanism of the body; and disability as the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organization which takes no or little account of people who have physical impairments and thus excludes them from participation in the mainstream of social activities. Physical disability is therefore a particular form of social oppression. Continue reading