The rise of the disability rights movement in the latter half of the twentieth century was a political and theoretical advance. Activists and scholars developed new ways of thinking about disability to support their demand for social change; the best known being the distinction between the medical and social models of disability. Despite its ongoing significance, the social model is not without its limitations, and in the decades since its formulation, scholars and activists have continued to theorise disability and its meanings. This theorisation has also extended to thinking about notions of ableism. The identification of paternalism is central to these theoretical developments, since disability often involves disempowerment and a loss of autonomy. Power imbalances increase the possibility of violence against, and abuse, neglect, and exploitation of, people with disability.
This report has been written to provide an overview of disability theories and models. It shows how these theories can contribute to the promotion of a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. It uses the lens of power to consider outdated and rejected ways of thinking about disability that are still pervasive and impact negatively on the treatment of people today (the charity and medical models of disability).
Thereafter it explores models and theories that have been used by people with disability and their advocates to transform attitudes, systems, and policy so as to empower individuals to resist violence, maximise independence, and flourish on their own terms.