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Independent Living and the Medical Model of Disability

The disability rights movement has, then, moved through the three phases typical of social movements. First, it has defined a problem, the oppressive marginalization of people with disabilities, and identified its sources in the dominant ideas and practices, the hegemonic plausibility structure, which constitute the medical model of disability.

In its second phase, the movement moved successfully on three fronts, the ideological, the legislative and the organizational, to solve the problems of those with disabilities. Specifically, it proffered a social model of disability which has, to an important degree, replaced the medical model. It supported legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which has been enacted into law to advance the inclusion of those with disabilities into the mainstream of American society and empowered them to act effectively and productively within it. The movement helped create a new form of organization, the independent living center, to assist those with disabilities when they need assistance.

In its third phase, the aftermath of its success, the disability rights movement has found their support of a social model of disability can lead them to stand on the sidelines on some important issues, such as health care reform, and to oppose positions taken by groups whose support they need to build an effective, pro-disability rights coalition. Moreover, in the aftermath of success on the legislative front, the movement has found that, as with all laws, the laws it helped enact are not always well or forcefully applied and that the meaning of its key terms may not be settled. Indeed, it is likely their application will need to be negotiated, by countless individuals with disabilities and their advocates, over and over again with countless school officials, local, state and federal government officials and business people at all levels.