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A social relational model of disability: A theoretical framework for special needs education?



This paper discusses various approaches to the phenomenon of disability in relation to special needs. Ever since disability researchers launched the social model of disability and criticised the field of special education for preserving an understanding of disability in accord with a medical model, the special education field has been in a state of crisis. The implication of this has been the embarrassment of talking about categories and levels of functional difficulty; as well as diagnoses, all of which enable individual assessments necessary for building the IEPs (Individual Educational Plans) and child‐centred teaching within special needs education. The challenge for special needs theorists is to consider the critique of the orthodoxy of special needs education and its understanding of disability, yet at the same time to develop an understanding of disability that can serve as a departure point for working in the field of special needs education. This implies an understanding of the phenomenon of disability, identifying pupils’ needs without contributing to the negative effects that often have come about in the wake of classification, categorisation and labelling in education. The present paper argues for a social relational model of disability as a platform for the enterprise of special needs education. The rationale for the social relational model of disability is that it better conforms to the morality of inclusion because the main issue of the social model, oppression, is not obliterated.
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European Journal of Special Needs Education
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A social relational model of disability: a theoretical framework for special
needs education?
Solveig Magnus Reindala
a NLA, School of Religion, Education and Intercultural Studies, Bergen, Norway
To cite this Article Reindal, Solveig Magnus(2008) 'A social relational model of disability: a theoretical framework for
special needs education?', European Journal of Special Needs Education, 23: 2, 135 — 146
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/08856250801947812
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European Journal of Special Needs Education
Vol. 23, No. 2, May 2008, 135–146
ISSN 0885-6257 print/ISSN 1469-591X online
© 2008 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/08856250801947812
A social relational model of disability: a theoretical framework for special
needs education?
Solveig Magnus Reindal*
NLA, School of Religion, Education and Intercultural Studies, Bergen, Norway
Taylor and Francis LtdREJS_A_294947.sgm10.1080/08856250801947812European Journal of Special Needs Education0885-6257 (print)/1469-591X (online)Original Article2008Taylor & Francis232000000May This paper discusses various approaches to the phenomenon of disability in relation to special
needs. Ever since disability researchers launched the social model of disability and criticised
the field of special education for preserving an understanding of disability in accord with a
medical model, the special education field has been in a state of crisis. The implication of this
has been the embarrassment of talking about categories and levels of functional difficulty; as
well as diagnoses, all of which enable individual assessments necessary for building the IEPs
(Individual Educational Plans) and child-centred teaching within special needs education. The
challenge for special needs theorists is to consider the critique of the orthodoxy of special
needs education and its understanding of disability, yet at the same time to develop an
understanding of disability that can serve as a departure point for working in the field of special
needs education. This implies an understanding of the phenomenon of disability, identifying
pupils’ needs without contributing to the negative effects that often have come about in the
wake of classification, categorisation and labelling in education. The present paper argues for
a social relational model of disability as a platform for the enterprise of special needs
education. The rationale for the social relational model of disability is that it better conforms
to the morality of inclusion because the main issue of the social model, oppression, is not
Keywords: social relation model; disability; special needs education; philosophy of special
needs education
Disability studies and critique of special needs education
In recent years, what some label orthodoxy in special needs education (Gallagher et al. 2004) has
been challenged by the social model of disability presented by authors in the field of disability
studies (Oliver 1996b; Shakespeare and Watson 1997; Swain et al. 1993). The orthodoxy within
special needs education is identified within a positivistic and functional paradigmatic frame,
where a medical model of disability is the platform for classification systems used in special
education (Skrtic 1991, 1995a, 1995b). Disagreement between disabled people and professionals
is delineated, the medical model and its way of defining needs continue to disempower disabled
people (Sim et al. 1998, 54). The field of habilitation is especially criticised for its categorisation
of impairments and special needs into disabilities, through classification systems grounded in a
medical understanding of disability. This orthodoxy in the special needs education enterprise is
by some identified as the cause of the failure of integration – the integration policies representing
in the 1970s and 1980s a real “breakthrough” for special education as a profession and field of
research (Vislie, 2006, 406).
In the wake of the growing and national/international critique of the orthodoxies of special
needs education, a Quality Committee addressing special education in Norway proposed abolish-
ing the right to special needs as provided in the Education Act 2003, instead strengthening the
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136 S.M. Reindal
right to adapted and ordinary education “for all” (NOU 2003:16). The rationale for the sugges-
tion, among others, documented negative effects of special needs education by effect studies.
However, closer scrutiny of such studies, referred to by the Quality Committee, demonstrated it
was the quality of special needs education that could be criticised, as teachers were likely to lack
special education qualifications and be untrained teacher assistants (TA) (Universitetet i Oslo
Institutt for spesialpedagogikk 2004, 24). This assumption is supported by other studies, where
students with impairments have moved from mainstream schools into special needs further
education (Pitt and Curtin 2004, 394; Rogers 2007, 61). The use of TAs to support inclusion is
well established, but their lack of training has been highlighted as a major concern in the success-
ful undertaking of a pedagogical role (Lindsay 2007, 14). Is a growing substitution taking place,
where TAs within inclusive education take over the pedagogical role for the special educational
needs (SEN) pupils?
A study of pupil perspectives identified the TA role as: mother, friend, protector and primary
teacher, and pointed out that the relationship between the TA role and child outcomes requires
further research (Lindsay 2007, 14). However, in the case of Norway, in the subsequent White
Paper the Education Ministry did not take up the suggestion of the Quality Committee regarding
abolition of the right to special education (White Paper No. 30, 2003–4, 10). Yet, one can say that
the special needs enterprise is in crisis, as legitimating a discipline that has traditionally been
understood as dominated by the habilitation field, both in Norway and internationally. Often the
pedagogy derived from the habilitation field has been labelled as “more-of-the-same” pedagogy,
where repetitive training of weak functions has been the major focus (Markussen 2004). As previ-
ously mentioned, this pedagogy is criticised for continuing to uphold an understanding of disabil-
ity within a functional and medical paradigmatic framework.
The challenge is: how are special educators to consider and understand impairments and
disability? Are impairments and disability social constructs and, hence, is the enterprise of special
education part of the problem, since the understanding of difference is an important background
for provision and special arrangements? If so, a deconstruction of special need is necessary, as
Skrtic and other postmodern critics of special needs have argued (Danforth and Rhodes 1997;
Skrtic, 1995a, 1995b). Furthermore, is the issue at stake here not just a deconstruction, but rather
abolition, as some of the radical proponents of inclusive education have suggested – as they see
the special needs enterprise just as “a necessary evil” because of general education’s inability to
accommodate and include the full diversity of learners? This perspective has been labelled as
“full non-separatist inclusion” (Norwich 2002, 488). Or has the enterprise of special needs its own
legitimate right within the school setting? Some of the answers to these questions, I argue, are
related to the perceptions of the phenomenon of disability. Is there a common ground that can
serve as a platform both for the radical proponents of inclusive education and SEN, although the
former group is critical to special needs education as an enterprise? I propose that some of the
answers to these questions are found in a common perception of the phenomenon of disability.
Danforth (2001) has argued that special needs educators and other service personnel involved
with pupils with special needs do not need a common understanding of disability:
Likewise, special educators and disability service personnel need not come to a consensus about how
to view disability or a person considered to have a disability … It is therefore best to view the above
analyses of the three models of disability as something other than competition for the one, best way
of thinking. (Danforth 2001, 356–7)
The stance is argued for by Danforth on the ground of pragmatic philosophy with reference
to the Dewey-West articulation of the social ideal of “creative democracy” (Danforth 2001, 345).
Instead of arriving at a shared model and understanding of the phenomenon of disability as a basis
for special needs education, Danforth suggests that we should set aside the metaphysical question:
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European Journal of Special Needs Education 137
“Is this model scientifically true?” … in favour of the practical question, “What can we special educa-
tors and service providers do with this model? Where will it take us as we act within social-moral
world?” (Danforth 2001, 347)
This, then, is an important way of approaching the issue of the phenomenon of disability. My
intention is not to develop a scientific model, but a theoretical framework exploring the phenom-
enon of disability, illuminating the interplay between impairment and the phenomenon of disabil-
ity as a thinking chart. However, I do not agree with Danforth’s conclusion that we need not come
to a consensus. I propose that in order to have practices that thrive and facilitate development in
the same direction and not in opposing directions, a prerequisite is an understanding of disability
that underpins the special needs education enterprise. The main reason for this is that the ways
we perceive the phenomenon of disability influence the classification systems that underpin
special educational practices. However negative one can be regarding classification systems, it is
difficult to abolish them altogether in the school setting, because the consequence is denying
rather than being able to abolish the need for differentiation. As Rogers argues:
“inclusive” education policy, as concepts, process and an experienced reality, denies difficulty rather
than embraces it. This is due largely to the conflict between “inclusive” education, the league tabling
of schools and the testing and examination culture. (Rogers 2007, 56; emphasis in original)
Rogers here builds her argument on parental experience of “inclusive” mainstream education
within the context of “inclusive” education.
Phenomenon of disability, special education and classification
The classification system in special education has been a tool to organise information of pupils’
needs and has served among other things: to understand the differences among pupils and to ratio-
nalise the distribution of resources; and it has been requisite to receiving special educational and
related services (Florian et al. 2006, 37). However aware we may be of the negative and problem-
atic effects of classification, categorisation and labelling can have in educational settings, there
can be no public policy without classification (Florian et al. 2006). Even more urgent is that the
enterprise of special needs education has a perception of disability that functions as a platform for
identifying difficulties and differences that do not disempower disabled people, as the individual
medical approach has been accused of doing (Sim et al. 1998).
Currently, there are two influential perspectives on disability as it pertains to learning: one
emphasises the additionality for the individual child (identified as an individual approach to
disability), and the other the inclusivity of the system (identified as a social approach to disability)
(Norwich 2002). The tension between these two approaches gives rise to various models for how
an inclusive school should be realised, with reference to pedagogical practices, structures and
But as Norwich points out, it is unclear whether and how far the terms “additionality” or
“inclusivity” go beyond the field of disability, as the distinction between adapted education and
special education is blurred, and as inclusive diversity also includes other vulnerable, disadvan-
taged or oppressed groups (Norwich 2002, 493). An effect of this might be that disability issues
in education are dissolved into a wider amorphous inclusive education and that the term “inclu-
sive education”, just like SEN, can come to be a separatist term relative to mainstream educa-
tion (Norwich 2002). However, as Lindsay argues, there is an opportunity to implement and
evaluate a variegated system of inclusive education appropriate to the complex societies and
patterns of schooling in the twenty-first century where inclusion, in its widest sense, is impar-
tial, addressing religion, ethnicity, social class and other social dimensions as well as SEN and
disability (Lindsay 2007, 19).
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138 S.M. Reindal
If this is indeed possible, then, I argue that it is important to have a perception of disability
that goes beyond the discussion, where one accuses the other of either over-individualising or
over-socialising the phenomenon of disability within the context of SEN. We need an understand-
ing of disability that gives rise to talk about individual needs and inclusion, as well as an under-
standing of disability that does not split additionality and inclusivity (Norwich 2002, 493).
Norwich argues for an understanding of disability within a biopsycho-social model, similar to the
WHO’s International classification of function, disability and health (ICF: WHO 2001). In a
recent literature overview of the ICF endorsement, it is shown that there have indeed been few in
education (Bruyere, Van Looy and Peterson 2005). Recently, however, Florian et al. have argued
for ICF as a tool enabling disability classification and categorisation in cross-national compari-
sons on disability in education (Florian et al. 2006). Nonetheless, this model has been criticised
for upholding an understanding of the interplay between impairment and disability as that of
restriction (Thomas 2004, 578).
Understanding this interplay as restriction implies an understanding of disability as a
phenomenon of disadvantage, not as a form of oppression. The moral implications of the
difference between oppression and the disadvantaged are crucial for the social model, as it was
initially formulated by Paul Hunt and Vic Finklestein as a relational specificity (Thomas
2004). Nordenfelt (2003) has criticised the conceptual framework of the ICF model, focusing
on the definitions of activity and participation. He maintains that there exists confusion
between capacity for action and the actual performance of the action, and that the ICF does not
bring in sufficient elements for a theory of action as the aspect of intention and volition is not
within the conceptual framework of activity and participation (Nordenfelt 2003, 1079). Within
the ICF, disability and restriction of activity are linked to general norms in relation to activities
and roles that are statistically normal or considered positively desirable in the relevant cultural
However, the issue is not normal or statistical goals, but also what is vital for the individ-
ual in relation to participation and activity. Edwards (2005) argues that Nordenfelt’s approach
seems not to ride roughshod over individuals’ own views about what is important to them in
the way in which the ICF does (Edwards 2005, 26). This aspect is crucial in moral theory, as
it addresses the issues of autonomy and empowerment, which are important aspects of inclu-
sion. The conclusion by the various ICF endorsements in the contemporary literature is that,
although numerous authors support the ICF framework and its utility for rendering compara-
ble health information from multiple settings, several authors point to drawbacks in the
conceptualisation of specific components, which are in need of further study and develop-
ment (Bruyere, Van Looy and Peterson 2005, 114). Yet another important issue is lost, in this
model, that has been a sine qua non for those disabled people who launched the social model:
the issue of oppression. Within the framework of the ICF the understanding of disability
continues to be “not being able to do things” and as “restricted activity” (Thomas 2004, 579).
The other aspect pointed out by Edwards (2005), building on Nordenfelt’s critique of the ICF,
is decisive because it shows that the ICF model is a weaker framework for theorising about
empowerment and autonomy for disabled people, as goals for participation rest on norms
related to normality and statistics. I cannot see that Norwich’s biopsycho-social model
manages to incorporate these crucial issues, as his model is similar to the ICF’s understanding
of disability.
In the following, I outline various models of disability as discussed in the field of Disability
Studies and their critique, and I will argue for a relational social model of disability (Reindal 2007;
Thomas 2004) as a platform for the enterprise of special needs education, where additionality and
inclusivity are not split as a basis for SEN and where the issue of oppression is not obliterated
from an understanding of disability.
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European Journal of Special Needs Education 139
Perceptions of the phenomenon of disability: various models
With reference to contemporary writing about disability theory, Priestley (1998) suggests that a
proper understanding of disability theory requires both a distinction between individual and social
approaches, and a distinction between materialist and idealist explanations. In this background he
recognises four models of disability in the contemporary literature, as follows.
First, I outline the main distinction between individual and social models. The proponents
of the social model have argued that the main target of the social model has been to break the
presupposed causal link between reduced function and disability, which individual models
build on (Oliver 1996a). Instead the social model proposes that the relation between reduced
function and the experience of disability is contingent on environmental, social and cultural
factors. This has been the main theoretical and empirical prerequisite of the social model.
If the difficulties disabled people experience are only within the limit of their reduced function,
the solution is to learn to tackle, on a personal basis, the impairment psychologically, emotion-
ally, culturally and socially. Hence various individual approaches to the phenomenon of
disability would be adequate. However, Oliver argues that “the social model is not an attempt
to deal with the personal restrictions of impairment but the social barriers of disability” (Oliver
1996b, 38).
Furthermore, there is the divergence between materialist and idealist levels of explanation. In
the contemporary literature, one can identify at least two main social models departing from
different traditions: an idealist tradition, which historically can be identified with Durkheim and
the study of culture, often recognised as a postmodern research tradition (Thomas 2004, 590); and
a materialist tradition, which historically can be associated with Hegelian and Marxian analysis
of the production of material structures within a specific historical context (Priestley 1998), often
recognised as a historical-materialist research tradition (Thomas 2004, 590). Within the idealist
view, disability is regarded as the idealist product of societal development within a specific
cultural context. The units of research are cultural values and representations that give rise to vari-
ous social constructionist models of disability. Within the materialist view, disability is the mate-
rial product of socio-economic relations developing within a specific historical context. The units
of analysis are disabling barriers and material relations of power that give rise to various social
creationist models (Priestley 1998, 78). Sometimes this approach is also labelled the minority
group model (Danforth 2001, 349).
Similarly, one can identify two individual models respectively within a materialist tradition
and an idealist tradition. The individual-materialist tradition is often labelled the medical model
and has been identified as the foremost understanding of disability underpinning the enterprise of
special education (Skrtic 1986, 1995a, 1995b). Within this view disability is the physical product
of biology acting upon functioning of individual bodies. This understanding of disability arises
out of a functionalist research tradition (Skrtic 1991). The individual-idealist tradition sees
disability as a product of voluntaristic individuals (disabled and non-disabled) engaged in the
creation of identities and negotiation of roles. The units of analysis are beliefs and identities, and
they give rise to various interactionist models of disability (Priestley 1998, 79–80) stemming
from an interpretative and phenomenological research tradition (Skrtic 1991).
All the four models acknowledge that there is some initial biomedical condition that causes
reduced function by the individual. Within the constructionist models reduced function is seen as
a natural variation of the human species (Reindal 1995). This stance has been criticised by the
creationists. They argue for the importance of a social origin of reduced function, seeing impair-
ment as a result of biosocial processes, as lack of vaccination programmes and health care, malnu-
trition, poverty, etc. (Abberley 1987, 1996). The various interpretations of the phenomenon of
disability in relation to special needs can be presented as in Figure 1.
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140 S.M. Reindal
Figure 1. Special needs and models of disability (adapted from Reindal 2007, 53).
Disability and special needs education
Even though identifying reduced function in various aspects often is the ground for labelling as a
special need, the understanding varies as to how this becomes a disability. The process of identi-
fying something as a special need, as an effect of impairment, is not the issue that is relevant to
the debate of inclusion, but how this need becomes a disability: how does a reduced function
become a state of being disabled? Which understanding of the phenomenon of disability concords
with the experiences that disabled people have in relation to the in/exclusion experience? Is there
a common ground of understanding, which can serve as a platform for the special needs education
enterprise? Or do we have to settle with the pragmatic solution proposed by Danforth: “Likewise,
special educators and disability service personnel need not come to a consensus about how to
view disability or a person considered to have a disability” (Danforth 2001, 356)?
I will argue that it is important to have a common platform as an understanding of the
phenomenon of disability that connects individual and social aspects, both for explanatory
purposes and for designing provisions, facilitating interaction between the inclusivity of the
Figure 1. Special needs and models of disability (adapted from Reindal 2007, 53).
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European Journal of Special Needs Education 141
system as well as responding to specific individual needs (Norwich 2002). Is it possible to talk
about special needs and still not contribute to an understanding of disability as an individual prob-
lem? Is the main problem the notion of special needs, as some argue that it remains conceptually
a “within-child model” (Terzi 2005, 447)? I argue that it is possible to talk about special needs as
individual needs, related to the effects of reduced function, without remaining in the “within-child
model” for an understanding of the phenomenon of disability, as Terzi requires. I now outline
some critiques and some of the shortcomings of the above models.
Critique of various models
The main critique concerning the individual models is, as pointed out above, the linear under-
standing of causality between a reduced function and the phenomenon of disability. These models
are accused of ignoring social, cultural and environmental aspects in the formation of the
phenomenon of disability. There are many historical examples of individualising social prob-
lems: explaining poverty and unemployment as a result of idleness and character weakness; crime
as a result of “moral insanity”, a frequently used label in the interwar period (Simonsen 1999;
Kirkebæk 2001); and lack of education as a result of inability, etc. A common denominator for
these elucidations is that they frame social phenomena in the light of the individual instead of
addressing the individual in relation to various macro levels. Individual models can dissolve the
phenomenon of disability to reduced function with consequent effect as the main reason of the
Another problem the biomedical model embodies is that it cannot account for the discrepan-
cies of the multifaceted perceptions of impairment in terms of ethnographical, social anthropo-
logical and cultural studies (Clausen, Kirkebæk and Sætersdal 1998; Ingstad and Whyte 1995;
Solvang, Froestad and Söder 2000). These studies do not confirm the supposed perception of the
medical model of impairment as disability, as impairment/reduced function and disability are
causally related. Critique of the interactionist models focusing on, for example, stigma, is based
on the ground that the theory of stigma fails to clarify why disabled people as a group experience
social restriction (Oliver 1990, 68).
Individual models of disability have enabled the professional ideologies and practices that
operate within attitudes of caring and caretaking of the “unfortunate” individual: underpining this
is the view that disability is a personal tragedy due to reduced function. This approach has
promoted attitudes of paternalism and mechanisms of dependency at various macro levels within
Critiques of social models can be divided into: (1) an internal critique, (2) a critique arising
from related research fields and (3) a philosophical critique (Reindal 2007, 38). The internal
critique is partly a self-critique, in order to improve the model by its architects. The social model
arose from the milieu around the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS)
in England, with contributions from Paul Abberley, Len Barton, Vic Finkelstein, Paul Hunt and
Mike Oliver, to mention a few. The main problem the social model faced was how to “fit” the
personal experience of impairment, as the social model did not attempt to address personal
restrictions of impairment, but rather social barriers of disabilities (Oliver 1996b, 38). These
attempts met with criticism from other advocates of a social model, who stressed the importance
of the personal experience (Crow 1996, 60). The main goal of social models was to break the
linear, causal understandings that were prominent in the individual models, stressing contin-
gency. The authors have pointed out the need to deconstruct the phenomenon of disability in order
to show that it is not ahistorical or universal (Corker and Shakespeare 2002; Danforth and Rhodes
1997). The challenge was to understand the interplay between the reduced function and the
phenomenon of disability: how contingent was this relationship? And if no cause and effect
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142 S.M. Reindal
existed between reduced function and disability, how was one to understand the fact that people
with impairments often experienced oppression and discrimination as a group?
Bury argues that if there is no initially underpinned individual problem, then social reactions
such as oppression, exclusion, discrimination, etc. will have nothing to respond to (Bury 1996,
30). The lack of clarity and disagreements have related to the issue of how to explain such an
interplay, both from a creationist as well as a constructionist position. This lack of clarity has also
been prevalent in contemporary special needs debates in relation to understanding and conceptu-
alisation of individual need, as, for example, Terzi shows with reference to Dyson (2005, 448):
Special needs are not needs that arise in a child with disabilities with regard to a system that is fixed.
Rather they are needs that arise between the child and the educational system as a whole when the
system fails to adopt itself to the characteristics of the child. (Terzi 2005, 448)
Comments like that of Dyson have given rise to the second critique, of the related research
fields that have criticised the social model of over-socialising the phenomenon of disability. This
critique has been especially advanced within the fields of sociology of medicine and bioethics
(Bury 1996; Harris 2000). However, the constructionist view, drawing on social constructivism,
is the right addressee for this critique as this position relativises the phenomenon of disability
more radically, as has been shown, for example, in the writings of Tregaskis – where she argues
that disability could be eradicated if society were organised in ways that took the needs of all its
citizens into account (Tregaskis 2004a, 2004b, 604). Such a broad constructivist position (Collin
1997), as Tregaskis argues for, is seen by some bioethicists as approaching the absurd:
No matter how conveniently a paraplegic might move around in a town there would be problems
about trying to keep with a party climbing in the Himalayas – and it would be difficult to attribute
this to any kind of social construction. And if such problems appear in thought experiments about one
particular disability, they appear far more when you consider the endless types and degrees of disabil-
ity that exist, and imagine trying to construct environments that could cope with them all. (Richards
2002, 710)
The point Richards touches upon here concerns a general problem within the constructionist
position, the interpretation of restriction of activity (i.e., disability) as caused by social barriers,
and that impairment is not relevant for the experience of restriction of activity. This is absurd, as
Richards rightly points out. The reason for this is the blunt
social modelist assertions to the position that “all restriction of activity are caused by social barriers”.
It is then easy to slide into making logical counter-assertions such as this: impairment does not cause
restrictions of activity because the social models tell us that all restrictions of activity are caused by
social barriers. (Thomas 2004, 579; emphasis in original)
However, the creationist position has not denied the issue of impairment, and that it causes restric-
tions, hence it holds that the problem is not solely impairment, but rather social barriers; but this
has often resulted in the counter-assertions, as pointed out by Thomas. Nonetheless, the creationist
position has been accused of upholding a dualistic understanding of the distinction between
impairment and disability, and that it confines the body to medicine (Hughes and Paterson 1997).
Instead, researchers have argued for a phenomenological approach to the body, with reduced
functions as a platform for an understanding of a social relational model of disability (Hughes and
Paterson 1999; Reindal 2007).
The third critique of the social models comes from the philosophy of science (Reindal 2007),
where the social model is affected by the same general critique as other social constructionist
positions and relativist variants of sociology, because the distinction between ontology and epis-
temology is dissolved. As a consequence, these positions have difficulty in producing social facts
due to lack of construct validity (Collin 1997, 74). The creationist position argues that the ideol-
ogy of normality originated with the rise of capitalism, with its need for a workforce defined by
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European Journal of Special Needs Education 143
people’s capacity to be useful and productive (Oliver 1990). However, this position faces the
general critique raised in Marxist analysis – the difficulty of pointing to which historical and
economical context the phenomenon of disability was generated within, as the phenomenon of
disability also existed before the rise of capitalism in Western culture (Thomas 2004, 572).
A social relational model of disability as basis for the SEN enterprise: presentation
of a theoretical framework in order to illuminate the interplay between impairment
and disability
In the social relational model the main issue in the social model is retained: the contingency and
interplay between the effects of impairment and the phenomenon of disability. However, this is
neither elaborated within a historical materialist position nor as a postmodern social construction-
ist position, but as a social relational phenomenon, keeping the element of oppression and
discrimination as an important distinction in contrast to disadvantage due to restriction of activity.
The logical distinction between necessary and sufficient reasons (Reindal 1998, 26) might
clarify the character of the interplay between the reduced function and the phenomenon of disabil-
ity within a social relational model. A necessary condition is one that is a prerequisite – as, for
example, being able to read is a necessary condition for making sense of a text. This is not a suffi-
cient condition, because one might be able to read, yet still find the text too abstract to make any
sense of. Being able to read does not guarantee that one will be able to make sense of it, but if one
cannot read, one certainly will not make any sense of the text. A sufficient condition is one that
when met will guarantee that whatever is in question will be satisfied. Having a particular impair-
ment implies some effect (Thomas 2004) of this condition, which is a necessary condition for
Figure 2. The interplay between reduced function and disability: a social relational model (adapted from
Reindal 2007, 49).
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144 S.M. Reindal
experiencing disablement in certain circumstances; but this is not a sufficient condition, since
whether an impairment results in disablement differs according to time and changing circum-
stances (Reindal 1998, 27). What has been lost in the social model is, according to Thomas, the
relational aspects (Thomas 2004, 579), which I explained as the logical distinction between
necessary and sufficient reasons. In this perspective, a reduced function is a necessary condition
that has both personal and social implications for the individual. However, whether the reduced
function and its effects become a disability is dependent on restrictions within various macro
levels in society that are imposed on top of the social effect that the reduced function implies for
that individual. This understanding can be exemplified as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. The interplay between reduced function and disability: a social relational model (adapted from Reindal 2007, 49).
Within this model, points 1 and 2 (Figure 2) would be the ground for defining and classifying
what Norwich called “additionality”. Points 3 and 4 would be the ground for making changes at
the macro level in order to promote inclusivity, and lessen the consequences of issues related to
point 4 from coming into being. None of these four points is static, in the sense that there are feed-
back loops back and forth between the various levels. New treatment and technology should be
able to modify the necessary condition of some aspects of reduced function, as well as alterations
at the macro level within societies that could change the conditions for becoming disabled.
Concluding remarks
The important distinction this model presents is: it is possible to distinguish between personal
experiences of social restrictions due to the reduced function in a social setting, on the one hand,
versus imposed social restrictions in social settings, on the other hand. By holding on to both
personal and social effects of a reduced function, it is possible to talk about “additionality” that
is needed in order to adjust to the experience of disability on an individual level. At the same time,
it is possible to expose what is imposed on top of the social restriction due to the reduced function,
and in this way, to see in/exclusive mechanisms within the social setting and at various macro
levels. Within this model it is possible to give weight to the personal experience of living with
reduced function, both socially and individually, without embracing an individual approach. This
enables the narrative element and provides the opportunity to tell the story of how reduced func-
tions both enrich and restrict one’s experiences. Frank (1995) points out the importance of indi-
vidual experience, and how this enriches and is a source of empowerment to others, because it
gives the experience a voice:
In wounded storytelling the physical act becomes the ethical act. Kierkegaard wrote of the ethical
person as editor of his life: to tell one’s life is to assume responsibility for that life. This responsibility
expands. In stories, the teller not only recovers her voice; she becomes a witness to the conditions that
rob others of their voices. When any person recovers his voice, many people begin to speak through
that story. (Frank 1995, xii–xiii)
This implies that it is possible to talk about social effects as something other than just social barri-
ers. One can speak of social restrictions as effects of a reduced function: in addition, one can
speak of imposed social, cultural, environmental and religious mechanisms that restrict and
hinder the individual in realising vital goals and achievements in life.
Another important aspect of this model is what it opens for the narrative aspects, as it recog-
nises the personal and social effects of reduced function without sliding into an individual
approach. It recognises that disability is a contingent phenomenon imposed on the individual by
social hindrances and restrictions on top of the social effects impairment may bring about for the
individual. However, further conceptualisations are needed in order to develop the model, partic-
ularly in relation to additionality and inclusivity with reference to SEN. By not obliterating the
element of discrimination and oppression, the social relational model is better aligned to the
morality of inclusion as it is able to distinguish between personal restrictions in social settings
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European Journal of Special Needs Education 145
versus social hindrances that are imposed on top of these and which hinder the individual in
achieving vital goals.
I would like to thank colleges at NLA, and especially Asbjørn Tveiten, for valuable comments on
earlier drafts of this paper.
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... This study will be informed by both the social relational model of disability [7] and Bowen's family system theory [8]. The social relational model of disability views disability as the social imposition of restrictions on activities of people living with impairments [9,10]. ...
... Disablism can be defined as socially imposed restrictions and is a form of social oppression [9]. The social relational model is distinct from the medical and social models of disability because it highlights the elements of oppression experienced by individuals living with a disability which are a core feature of social models and considers how those oppressive external forces and social relationships interact with the medical impairments experienced by the individual [7]. The distinction between impairment and disability is important within the context of the social relational model. ...
Purpose: Children and adolescents with developmental challenges may rely on their parents for assistance with everyday tasks to a greater extent than typically developing children. The objective of this study was to examine family members' perspectives regarding family relationships related to participation in an adapted summer camp for children and adolescents living with a disability. Materials and methods: A collective case study was conducted with eleven families who had a child living with a disability who participated in an adapted physical activity (PA) summer camp. A focus group was conducted with each family and thematically analyzed. Results: Families experienced changes in perspectives and pride surrounding adapted PA, more family conversations about disability, less parental worry, more independence of the child living with a disability, and enhanced family bonds through PA. The children who participated in the camp saw impacts on their self-confidence and independence. COVID-19-related program suspension was associated with frustration, worry, and strained family relationships. Conclusions: These findings elucidate how participation in adapted PA for children and youth with disabilities can impact family relationships. Future interventions allow for space for family interactions and create opportunity for children and adolescents with disabilities to be independent.
... O Reindal (2008), išanalizavusi tuo metu įvairių autorių minimus ir aprašytus negalios sampratos modelius, išskyrė keturis dažniausiai aprašomus: 1) biomedicininis modelis (angl. biomedical model) -nepakankamas biologinis ir fizinis funkcionavimas; negalia yra nepakankamo asmens kūno funkcionavimo rezultatas; 2) interakcinis modelis (angl. ...
... Autorės nuomone, tai yra problema, nes "kai mokiniai klasifikuojami kaip reikalingi kažko kitokio ar papildomo, lyginant su bendraamžiais, dėl šių "papildomų poreikių" jie gali būti marginalizuojami švietimo sistemoje" (Florian, 2014, p. 11). Reindal (2008) manymu, tai, kaip mes suvokiame ir apibrėžiame negalią, lemia klasifikavimo sistemas ir asmenų, turinčių negalių ir sutrikimų, ugdymo praktiką. Ališauskas (2019) taip pat pripažįsta, kad negalios įvardijimas yra susitarimo dalykas; kitoniškumo, negalių įvairovė visada egzistavo ir egzis-tuoja, tačiau jų įvardijimas ir santykis su jomis nuolat kinta. ...
Full-text available
International policy, intensively developing the ideas of inclusive education for people with disabilities, poses many questions about the survival of schools intended solely for pupils who have special educational needs and their role in the modern education system. By becoming a full member of the European Union and other international organizations, Lithuania has committed to adhere to the principles of ensuring equal rights and opportunities in education and to make every effort to develop inclusive education. The development in this direction is slow but consistent, ranging from the first steps in 1991, opening up the doors of mainstream schools to pupils with disabilities or disorders (Law on Education of the Republic of Lithuania, 1991), to the vision of today’s school that is open and friendly to every child (The Good School Concept, 2015). The monograph presents research, the object of which was special education and its transformations. The research aim was to analyse the peculiarities of special education in the school intended for pupils who have special educational needs and transformations of special education. Stages of the research. The analysis of the research object consisted of five stages. The first stage included the theoretical analysis of the conception of the disability, theoretical models of special education, and the international context of meeting special educational needs. The issues of special and inclusive education and of meeting special educational needs in the theoretical aspect are analysed. The analysis is followed by a retrospective assessment of the Lithuanian special education system, the empirical study in special schools, which enabled to reveal the opinions of special school communities about education, pupils’ achievements and their assessment, experiences, and opportunities for improvement of school activities. In order to investigate the object from various perspectives, the analysis of experiences of students-future special educators during their pedagogical practice in the special school was performed. Research methodology and methods. The research employs a mixed research methodology enabling to ensure that the intended research objectives are optimally sought at all stages of the empirical study, applying various research methods, and collecting data from different groups of research participants. Combining the methodology of the quantitative and qualitative research, quantitative and qualitative research methods, it was aimed to reveal the opinions and experiences of the members of the community in the country’s special schools and preconditions of quality education. Data on the same object, collected using different methods from various sources and informants (triangulation of research methods, samples, researchers, and research participants) allowed to analyse research data from different perspectives of the investigated object and helped to achieve the validity and objectivity of the research. A summary in English is provided at the end of the book, see pages 652-687
... Although there are a variety of models that researchers have used to examine disability globally (e.g., minority models; see Langørgen & Magnus, 2018; cultural/relational models; see Goldiner, 2022;Reindal, 2008; and human rights models; see Degener, 2017), in this study, we focused on how medical, legal, and social constructions of disability have been conceptualized in disproportionality research and how these cohere with policy recommendations. These varying constructions represent a core tension between the orthodoxy of one camp of special education scholars in preserving medicalized understandings of disability (e.g., Kauffman & Anastasiou, 2019;Kauffman et al., 2020) and disability studies scholars in critiquing how existing structures pathologize human differences . ...
Research on disproportionate representation in special education has potential to influence policy in ways that rectify educational inequities. In this study, we investigated how disproportionality researchers have operationalized disability , identified key themes and theories used in disproportionality research, and evaluated the coherence between this research and related policy. We found that studies using medical/rehabilitative frameworks to define disability tended to offer policy recommendations focused on preventing inappropriate identification and enhancing access to early interventions. In contrast, studies situated in social models of disability tended to offer policy recommendations for holistic improvement of educational systems. Finally, disproportionality studies applying legal frameworks tended to advocate for explicit policies regarding race and racism without attending to ableism. Given that federal policy continues to operate from a deficit perspective regarding student variability, we contend that deficit-oriented recommendations for change are unlikely to improve students' experiences in schools and related outcomes. We discuss the need for disproportionality research to inform policy through frameshifting.
... Individual impairment is an observable attribute of a disabled person and is intricately linked to their lived experience. Another critique centers on the social model's failure to account for variations among disabled people, specifically overlooking the intersectionality of different oppressive forces such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and so on (Fitzgerald, 2006;Reindal, 2008Reindal, , 2009. Advocating for full societal accommodation of disabled people, without considering these intersecting factors, may not adequately capture the lived experience of disabled individuals who cannot escape discrimination related to these issues. ...
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The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has identified and articulated the rights of people with disabilities, mandating how these rights should be upheld and protected by countries. The objective of this article is to explore how these rights can be translated into action for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). We conceptualize what human rights mean in the context of people with IDD, examine models of disability that have been utilized to provide services, and explore how mindfulness research and practices could be better aligned with the CRPD. We present five core principles of interdependent human rights of people with IDD and highlight five key challenges that hinder the realization of their fundamental rights and freedoms, which are intrinsic to the dignity of all human beings and are an essential component of a just and equitable society. We delve into the key Articles of the CRPD that underpin these rights and freedoms. Various models of services for people with IDD have been developed and implemented. We underscore the strengths and limitations of the medical, social, and biopsychosocial models, and provide an overview of the emergent human rights model that is based on the CRPD. Mindfulness is discussed in the context of other interventions as an adjunctive treatment and a potential intervention that could address some concerns expressed in the CRPD. Human rights, disability, and mindfulness are inextricably linked and could be strengthened to advance equity and full inclusion of people with IDD in our society. Impairment cannot be used as a basis for denying or restricting their rights. We need to promote the understanding that disability is an essential part of human diversity, and people with disabilities contribute unique and crucial perspectives in a just and enlightened society.
... Studies of CAWD both within and outside of the target age range were included at the full-text review if results were separated by age. In line with the social relational model of disability, disability was defined as any form of impairment that, when combined with societal barriers, impairment effects result in the experience of disability (Reindal, 2008). Additionally, Thomas (2004) highlighted the psycho-emotional dimension of well-being that is also impacted. ...
Children and adolescents with disabilities (i.e. a condition that requires ongoing medical attention and combined with societal barriers, limits activities of daily living) may be at greater risk of anxiety. Physical activity has been identified as a strategy to reduce symptoms of anxiety and buffer the severity of anxiety-related symptoms in children and adolescents without disabilities. Evidence on the relationship between anxiety and physical activity in children and adolescents with disabilities is limited. The aim of this review was to summarize and describe literature assessing the relationship between anxiety and physical activity in children and adolescents with disabilities. Five databases were searched from inception to search date. Of the initial 20,063 articles identified, eight met the inclusion criteria to be included in data extraction. The included studies ranged in study design. A small inverse relationship between anxiety and physical activity was described in all eight included studies, indicating higher physical activity levels to be associated with lower anxiety. Future research should use consistent operatio-nalizations and reliable/valid measures of anxiety and physical activity and implement prospective studies to further examine the anxiety-physical activity relationship in children and adolescents with disabilities.
... Moreover, the medical model does not provide individuals the freedom to choose their opportunities for learning. Additionally, Reindal (2008) criticized the medical model for its implications in education especially for the practices of inclusive education. The medical model emphasizes "the additionality for the individual (p.137)." ...
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The paper reviews the inclusion of persons with disabilities in higher education settings and examined this inclusion from the sociological perspectives. Given the paucity of research on educational opportunities of the person with disabilities in higher education, this paper seeks to fill this gap by discussing the different ways through which the inclusion of persons with disability can be understood from the sociological perspectives. Furthermore, aspects such as inclusion and how they are different for people with disability, and the sociological approaches that lead to different perspectives are also examined. The prevailing practices of inclusion in higher education and relevant empirical studies have also been focused on to better understand the influence of current policies on the inclusion of people with disabilities.
... Our main question here is how to adequately conceptualise the "smartness" of situations persons with ID are immersed in. Our understanding of disability in general, as well as of ID in particular, is rooted in social-relational models (Callus, 2021;Reindal, 2008), drawing on biological, psychological as well as social aspects as explanatory factors. With its bio-psycho-social model, developed in the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF; arguably the most well-known social-relational model of disability) the World Health Organization (WHO) provides us with a tool to understand and describe the interaction between the different components of health in the "process of functioning and disability" (WHO, 2001, p. 18). ...
Full-text available
“Smart devices” and “smart applications” open up a wide range of opportunities for the individual. Today, the vast majority of the population in Europe uses electronic devices with a multitude of “smart applications” as an aid in everyday life. One part of society that could arguably benefit more from these types of technology is that part comprised of persons with disabilities. Statistics show that persons with disabilities, especially those with intellectual disabilities, own and use fewer electronic devices than other parts of the population. Several authors have addressed this issue, referring to it as the “digital divide.” In this argumentative article, we advocate a social‐relational understanding of disability and conceptualise “smartness” as an attribute for situations (and neither for devices and applications nor for people). Through what we call “smart socio‐technical arrangements,” persons with intellectual disabilities potentially gain a higher level of activity and more independence. It appears that an individualised technology environment can contribute to the enablement and increase of participation of each person. The article links up with an applied research project analysing the establishment of socio‐technical arrangements not only for, but also with persons with intellectual disabilities. Our main question here is how to adequately conceptualise the “smartness” of situations for persons with intellectual disabilities. We argue that the use of devices as components of socio‐technical arrangements can optimally lead to smart situations in which persons with intellectual disabilities are more active and less restricted in their activities and participation. “Smartness” then is a synonym for functioning and an antonym of disability.
... Adopting a social relational model of dis-ability aligns with the ethical understanding of inclusion presented in this article. Fine distinction can be made between the personal restrictions identified by the individual and the imposed social encumbrances which hinder individuals from achieving their goals (Reindal, 2008). ...
Full-text available
This critical autoethnographic article with academic friends explores the complex territory of disability from a strengths-based, inclusive perspective. The article centres on the experiences of a mother and educator (the lead author), who continues to navigate the disability landscape, which is encumbered with deficit views. The curated narratives (or vignettes) presented hereafter, focus on specific educational experiences and challenges related to perceptions of disability and "othering" that threaten to exclude. Each narrative reveals the lead author's direct experiences of alienation and her need to develop a strong sense of fierceness to protect and secure the right to an equitable, inclusive education for her "othered" child. The authors analyse each story using emic and etic perspectives utilising ideas drawn from Lévinas' notion of alterity and his ethics of encounter, as well as critical discourse analysis to bring attention to the deficit language. Collectively, the narratives and the analyses aim to bring critical awareness to the lived experiences of this mother and educator and identify the deficit mindsets that affected her so profoundly.
Full-text available
Inclusive education/mainstreaming is a key policy objective for the education of children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities. This paper reviews the literature on the effectiveness of inclusive education/mainstreaming. The focus is on evidence for effects in terms of child outcomes with examination also of evidence on processes that support effectiveness. The review covers a range of SEN and children from pre-school to the end of compulsory education. Following an historical review of evidence on inclusive education/mainstreaming, the core of the paper is a detailed examination of all the papers published in eight journals from the field of special education published 2001-2005 (N=1373): Journal of Special Education, Exceptional Children, Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, Journal of Learning Disabilities, Remedial and Special Education, British Journal of Special Education, European Journal of Special Needs Education, and the International Journal of Inclusive Education. The derived categories were: comparative studies of outcomes: other outcome studies; non-comparative qualitative studies including non-experimental case studies; teacher practice and development; teacher attitudes; and the use of teaching assistants. Only 14 papers (1.0%) were identified as comparative outcome studies of children with some form of SEN. Measures used varied but included social as well as educational outcomes. Other papers included qualitative studies of inclusive practice, some of which used a non-comparative case study design while others were based on respondent's judgements, or explored process factors including teacher attitudes and the use of teaching assistants. Inclusive education/mainstreaming has been promoted on two bases: the rights of children to be included in mainstream education and the proposition that inclusive education is more effective. This review focuses on the latter issue. The evidence from this review does not provide a clear endorsement for the positive effects of inclusion. There is a lack of evidence from appropriate studies and, where evidence does exist, the balance was only marginally positive. It is argued that the policy has been driven by a concern for children's rights. The important task now is to research more thoroughly the mediators and moderators that support the optimal education for children with SEN and disabilities and, as a consequence, develop an evidence-based approach to these children's education.
The number of disability related support services controlled and run by disabled people themselves has increased significantly in the UK and internationally over the past forty years. As a result, greater user involvement in service provision and delivery is a key priority for many western Governments. This book provides the first comprehensive review and analysis of these developments in the UK. Drawing on evidence from a range of sources, including material from the first national study of user-controlled services, this book provides a critical evaluation of the development and organisation of user-controlled services in the UK and identifies the principal forces - economic, political and cultural - that influence and inhibit their further development. It summarises and discusses the policy implications for the future development of services and includes an up-to-date and comprehensive literature and research review. “Independent futures” is essential reading for academics and students on a range of courses including: health and social care; social work; allied health professions, such as nursing, occupational therapy and speech therapy; social policy; sociology; and psychology. It will also be of interest to practitioners and policy makers who need a reliable overview of current policy and critical analysis of key issues affecting future policy and practice.
This innovative book discusses the meaning of 'inclusion' through the exploration of the interactions between disabled and non-disabled people at a community leisure centre. By exploring the nature of this interface, an understanding of how people create potential for both disability and inclusion is revealed. This book takes a very different approach to that of existing texts, which have tended to concentrate mainly on disabled people's exclusion. The advantage of this new approach is that it adds an extra dimension to our understanding of how discriminatory practice is variously perpetuated and challenged.. Constructions of Disability is valuable reading for all people who are working towards increased social inclusion for disabled people, including theorists and students of disability studies and learning difficulty, leisure management and disability service providers, and their families. Using a practical case study approach, it explores the impact that social interaction between disabled and non-disabled people can have increasing or decreasing disabled people's opportunities for inclusion. Examples of both inclusive and discriminatory practice are described in detail, and the positive and negative effects of these actions on the participants are demonstrated and discussed. This insightful book offers a wide range of practical suggestions for the future development of more inclusive theory, policy and practice.
In this paper it is argued that a social theory of disability can best be developed through the use of the concept of oppression. This concept is outlined, and special emphasis is placed on the importance of the social origins of impairment in such an analysis. The ways in which this approach would utilise data gathered from other theoretical perspectives is indicated. General features of a theory of disability as oppression are specified.