Is the Medical Model Correct?

By T.J. Chiang

I was watching several TED Talks on disability and the medical model and it got me thinking: what if the medical model is doing more harm than good?

The medical model sees a diagnosis, such as a disability, as a problem with the individual in relation to his or her medical condition. A defect that needs and can be cured or fixed. People who are disabled are considered as “other,” as defective, weak and in need of help. A subject of pity. They are made to feel less than normal. From personal experience with IEPs, I know disabled people are subjected to meaningless tests that try to measure intellect (which they really don’t) and then put into special classes to try to separate them from the “normal” people.

Maybe it’s to solve, fix or cure their diagnosis? Maybe it’s because people feel pity and are trying to “help” the disabled? To be honest, I really don’t know why there are these meaningless tests and special classes other than to inhibit potential and make the disabled feel less than normal. These classes have low standards and people are congratulated just to meet or exceed those standards. The medical model doesn’t see potential, rather than seeing and enforcing limitations. Let me tell you a story:

Throughout my time in grade school, which spanned various districts (I will not name them), I was subjected to useless evaluations and tests that try and “test” my progress. One of the questions was, on a scale: “Can a student accurately copy notes written by the teacher on the blackboard into his or her notebook?” The goal is to show that a person with a disability, like me, could be a functional member of society. If you were high on the scale you were considered normal and if you were low you were not normal. In other words, if I could accurately copy my teachers’ class notes, I would magically be a functioning member of society. How silly is that!

Another question (again on a scale) asked if I could define 15 words a week to the teacher’s satisfaction in order to see if I could write for different audiences and purposes. If I could define 15 words, I would magically be able to write for different audiences and purposes. If I could do all of these and achieve a high score on all of these questions, I am fixed. I am normal. In the end, I scored miserably in all aspects. Had you seen my score, you would not believe where I am at today. I am a college student. I tutor sociology and just served as Head Tutor of Sociology at my university’s tutoring center.

Then there are special education classes, which are somewhat correlated with said tests. These classes have reduced work and lower expectations, among other things. From personal experiences, they don’t show potential, rather set limitations. I was stuck in these classes and fought my way up to get into regular and AP classes. I did exceptionally well and ended up tutoring other students in AP Government. Looking back, special education classes measure limitations not potentials. A lot of students in these classes are bright and have a lot of potential, but due to the medical model they are limited and consequently think they can’t do it.

What if we had a paradigm shift? What if we saw people with disabilities as an asset and as having potential? What if we see them as future contributors to society? Wouldn’t we want them to have the resources everyone else has? My friends, let’s promote inclusion and less separation. Let’s end the medical model.

T.J. is a senior Sociology major.

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