Disability Awareness Training

Disability: A New Paradigm

Disability is a human reality that has been perceived differently by diverse cultures and historical periods.  For most of the 20th century, disability was defined according to a medical model. In the medical model, disability is assumed to be a way to characterize a particular set of largely static, functional limitations. This led to stereotyping and defining people by condition or limitations.


World Health Organization (WHO) – New definition of Disability

WHOLOGOIn 2001, the World Health Organization (WHO) established a new definition of disability, declaring it an umbrella term with several components:

The new definition is based on human rights or social models, and focuses on the interaction between a person with a disability and the environment.


Redefining Disability according to the WHO (2:16)

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Valerie Fletcher, Adaptive Environments, Boston, MA


Social or Human Rights – New Model

The new definition of disability:

Definition of disability



  • A diagnosis
  • A medical "problem”
  • A person is limited and defined by the impairment or condition
  • A social and environmental issue that deals with accessibility, accommodations, and equity
  • Individuals with temporary or permanent impairments require accommodations to live full and independent lives

Strategies to address disability



  • Fix the individual
  • Correct the deficit within the individual
  • Provide medical, vocational, or psychological rehabilitation services
  • Remove barriers: physical, intellectual, cultural and educational
  • Create access through accommodations, universal design, and inclusive learning environments

Role of person with disability



  • Object of intervention
  • Patient
  • Research subject
  • Community member
  • Participant in cultural discourse
  • Decision maker
  • Customer, museum patron, artist, critic


Accessibility and “Invisible” Disabilities

It is important to remember that many people who benefit from accessible accommodations may not identify themselves as being a person with a disability. WHY?

  • Changes may be temporary, the result of an accident or a side effect of medication. 
  • Changes may be incremental, and happen slowly over time, so the moment when we identify ourselves as having a disability never arrives. Most people over 60 have or will have “acquired limitations.” As we age, we can’t walk as far, and our eyes, ears and hands don’t work as well.


But the need for accessibility remains – for better lighting, larger print, magnified sound, accessible elevators and bathrooms, more seating. Therefore, the investment in making your institution and programming accessible benefits a broad range of visitors, staff and other users.


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Disability Awareness Training
  A New Paradigm
  WHO New Definition of Disability
    Social or Human Rights New Model
    Accessibility and "Invisible" Disabilities
  Defining Accessibility
  Why Access to the Arts?
    Artists' Perspective
  Personal Perspective
    Legal Perspective
    Economic Perspective
    Institutional Perspective
  Accessibility Skills
    People-first Language
    Disability Stereotypes
    Communication Tips
    Sighted Guide Technique
  Assistive Technologies
    Mobility Accommodations
    Sensory Accommodations
    Cognitive Accommodations
  An Accessible Museum: Universal Design
  Tools For Accessibility
  Practical Exercises


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