Independent Living Movement Ireland

Disability Equality and Language

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) at its core is framed through an understanding of disability known as the social model of disability.

From ILMI’s perspective, it is vital that there is a clear and full understanding of what the social model of disability is and how it should inform future discussions on policy development and improvement and policy implementation.

Independent Living Movement Ireland recognises that language is a very powerful and evocative tool. Our framework for understanding the term “disability” requires a full understanding of language and terminology so that when we talk about social change and inclusion we have a shared understanding.

The below glossary gives an brief overview of some of the key concepts in Disability Equaltiy which are fully expanded in our Strategies for Change resources.


Ableism is a form of prejudice whereby people, structures and systems assume that non-disabled people are superior to disabled people. Typically, ableism is present whereby non-disabled people make decisions on behalf of disabled people and design systems and structures that exclude disabled people from society. Ableism can also involve discrimination and prejudice against disabled people in society and enable unearned privilege to non-disabled people over the lived experiences of disabled people.

Charity Model of Disability

The charity model, much like the medical model, individualises disability and promotes the idea that people are disabled by their impairments or differences. The charity model asks that non-disabled people should feel pity for the disabled person’s “tragedy”, or inspired by a disabled person’s achievements.

Disabled People

The term ‘disabled people’ has been used throughout the Plan in accordance with the UPIAS classification of disability and impairment which has been developed by disabled people themselves (UPIAS 1976). Where disabled people are referred to in the Plan this should be understood to include all disabled people, including those with physical impairments, intellectual impairments, people who experience emotional and mental distress and sensory impairments.


The word ‘Disability’ can be defined people who have impairments experiencing a disadvantage caused by environmental or social barriers that disables them from fully taking part in mainstream activities. ‘Disability’ is not the impairment. ‘Disability’ is created by social organisations which take little or no account of people who have impairment labels. Society disables people by excluding them from mainstream social, cultural and economic activities.

Disability Equality

Disability Equality is ensuring that every disabled person has the same equitable opportunities as non-disabled people to make the most of their lives, talents and dreams. The term was created by disabled activists to place the social model at the bedrock of Disability Equality and build on social model thinking-as-an-action with a strong framework of intersectional equality and emancipatory approaches.

Disability Equality incorporates feminism, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, class, and other identities as integral aspects of disabled persons selves and should never lead to discrimination or abuse based on intersectional identities. Disability Equality is about enabling the social model to advocate for laws and policies that will protect everyone’s dignity.

Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs)

ILMI is a Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO). DPOs, unlike disability services providers, are led by and for disabled people. DPOs work on a cross-impairment basis with disabled adults. DPOs are about bringing disabled people collectively together to bring about a more inclusive, equal society. DPOs are spaces for disabled people, informed through an equality, human rights and social model of disability lens. DPOs should be the voice of disabled people and that statutory, non-Statutory reach out to when looking to engage with the collective voice of disabled people (including media, cultural, sporting, economic, employment and social inclusion dialogues).


Disablism is whereby disabled people are discriminated against based on their impairment. Disablism is a form of social oppression involving the social imposition of restrictions of activity on disabled people and the socially engendered undermining of their lived experience well-being.


An impairment is an individual experience – or perceived experience – of a physical, mental and / or sensory permanent condition.

Independent Living

Independent Living is about having the freedom to have the same choices that everyone else has in housing, transportation, education and employment. Independent living is about choosing what aspects of social, economic and political life people want to participate in. Independent living is about having control over your life, to have a family, to get a job, to participate socially and to realise your goals and dreams.

Institutional Discrimination

Institutional discrimination is the less favourable treatment of disabled people due to lack of real participation of disabled people in the design, development and delivery of policies and services. This results in direct d indirect methods of discrimination are often embedded in an institution’s policies, procedures, laws, and objectives.


The interconnected structure of social categorisations that disabled people with their other lived experiences of categories such as race, age, ethnicity, class, and gender. This interconnecting of identity relationships can be viewed as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination, oppression or even identities celebrations experienced by disabled people throughout their life course.

Lived Experience

Lived experience of a disabled person is an individual ‘s story of lives that can be either medical or social model. From a social model and Disability Equality perspective the lived experience of disability is a social or societal experience. It can reflect the exclusion of people with impairments, due to social and environmental discrimination that acts as a barrier to their full equal and equitable effective participation in mainstream society. The lived experience of disability is fundamentally an issue of rights for and with the disabled person as the expert-of-the-lived-experience.

Medical Model of Disability

The medical model individualises disability and promotes the idea that people are disabled by their impairments or impairment-label differences to non-disabled people. The medical model always focuses on people’s impairments from a medical perspective. In some ways it still looks at what is ‘wrong’ with the person and not what enabling supports the person requires throughout their lives.

Its impairment cure or clinical stabilising focus creates low expectations and leads to people losing independence, choice and control in their own lives. By its nature the medical model cannot recognise the rights of disabled people and assumes that disabled people need to be “looked after” or “cared for”. The medical charity model has mainly non-disabled ‘experts and professionals make decisions for disabled people.

People informed by the medical / charity model language and thinking are limited to being focused on disabled people’s impairments. A small number of people in the Republic of Ireland feel they are being ‘politically-correct’ by using the phrase “people with disabilities” which associates the word ‘Disability’ with just the person’s impairment and overshadowing impairment label, such as ‘person with impairment’.

ILMI promotes the social model term ‘Disabled People’, where people with impairments are ‘disabled’ by Society’s economic, cultural and socially created barriers.

Social Model of Disability

The social model looks at how society is structured and how it disables people. It isn’t based on a person’s impairment, it is about what barriers that exist in terms of attitudes, policy development, access or lack of supports that prevent people from participating in society as equals, with choice and control over their own lives. In this model it is society that disables people from achieving their hopes and dreams, not a person’s impairment.

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