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Learning about the social model of disability…

5 August 2022

My first exposure to the social model of disability

I think the most important thing I learned this year was about the Social Model of Disability. I learned about it on a UCU CPD session last December and it stayed with me and changed my thinking. I have discussed disability with my colleagues particularly Rachel Davies and Sarju Patel. We’ve discussed how to support students, resources for students and how, sometimes, Cardiff University can be a difficult place to work and study.

The UCU CPD session was entitled Everyday Ableism. Ableism feels quite deeply embedded in the culture at Cardiff University and affects my colleagues and our students. For me, the Social Model of Disability encouraged a reframing of the discussion around disability and encouraged me to recognise the value and need for Cardiff University, and me, to move towards being more inclusive.

The Scope webpage tells us: “The Social Model says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets. Or they can be caused by people’s attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can’t do certain things.” Trying to changing all the barriers can feel overwhelming and outside our personal sphere of influence. However, changing my attitude lies very much within my power. I feel encouraged to learn, to listen and change. Not always easy and takes time but always worthwhile.

Rachel Davies shared with me a paper entitled: Rethinking disability: the social model of disability and chronic disease by Sara Goering. Goering quotes “I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the social model has saved lives”. This video from Scope illustrates some of the key transformative effects of the social model.

Connecting the social model with Universal Design for Learning

The topic of inclusive learning intersected with a workshop provided by Rachel Carney during the 2022 Cardiff University Teaching and Learning Academy Summer Conference. Rachel Carney’s talk was entitled: Neurodiversity and Inclusivity in Learning and Teaching. She talked about neurodiversity and supporting students and also mentioned another thing I learned about this year: Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL encourages us to “treat all students as individuals who learn in different ways” and to give choice, variety and options for participation.

I was stimulated to find out more about Universal Design for Learning and this journey is continuing. There are lots of interesting videos about UDL on the CAST YouTube channel. One video that was very interesting was by Andratesha Fritzgerald entitled “Antiracism and Universal Design for Learning”. Tesha started her presentation with a powerful image and visualisation that encouraged me to recognise the challenges of learning in an environment in which students felt fear rather than safety. This is a detailed seminar with lots of interesting material.


Both of the Social Model of Disability and Universal Design for Learning invite me to go beyond teaching and look to integrate equality, diversity and inclusion in EVERYTHING I do. My learning invites action: to be open to broader views of the world and life experience and to discuss the social model of disability with our students and with more of my colleagues across Cardiff University and Cardiff UCU.