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The social model of disability

Let’s start with disabled people. 

All disabled people are different. The one thing that unites disabled people is the way that society chooses to disable them. People create barriers that stop disabled people from taking part. Accessibility is about removing those barriers. 

The stereotype of disabled people is often with a wheelchair. And even though people are trying to update the symbol, wheelchair uses are a very small part of all disabled people. And using a wheelchair usually has little to do with digital accessibility. 

A more inclusive icon called Universal Access was introduced by Apple in OS X. 

In the physical world you are familiar with people using ramps and lifts instead of stairs. People who use a wheelchair face a daily struggle in moving around. These barriers can be reduced, but most wheelchair users don’t expect, or even want, to climb mountains. 

man in wheelchair climbing a skyscraper using ropes and pulley system

Paraplegic climber scales Hong Kong skyscraper 

Lai Chi-Wai was a climber before his spinal injury. So why wouldn’t he carry on climbing just because he’s in a wheelchair? But he still faces barriers getting around Hong Kong in his everyday life. 

In the digital world, disabled people face barriers too. But they really shouldn’t. Especially these days, when the whole world has gone online. It’s our responsibility, as communicators, as creators of content, to make everything accessible to everyone.

Read about the social model of disability

Social model of disability | Disability charity Scope UK

The Social Model of Disability

Reading about disability icons

Symbolizing accessibility 

The Accessible Icon Project

Hashtags to follow

If you want to understand more about disabilities, here are some hashtags that will get you started. Take a look at what people are saying, follow a few, and change your perspective. 






#a11y (this is a numeronym - the letter “a”, then 11 in numbers, then the letter “y”. It’s shorter and easier to type than the full word “accessibility”)