The social model of disability has brought important shifts in thinking about disability and where responsibility lies for ensuring the full participation of persons with disabilities. The traditional medical model of disability classifies people based on types of deficiency. By contrast, the social model of disability assumes that disability is not inherent to the person but rather is a social disadvantage that results from the interaction between functional limitations and a lack of accommodation in the environment.
The focus of the social model is to identify those at greater risk than the general population of experiencing limited social participation because of difficulties with certain basic actions. The social model examines the degree of difficulty in engaging in common activities as well as the frequency with which that difficulty interferes with daily activities. This shift has been given impetus by the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the need to gather data to measure the degree of equalization of opportunities between those with and without disabilities.
For persons with hidden mobility disabilities, the primary barriers are distance and time standing. Therefore, the social disadvantage to be examined includes discrepancies between comfortable walking distance and the distances the public is expected to walk, as well as discrepancies between expectations that people will stand for extended periods of time (e.g., in queues for service, to observe a public event, to participate in an open house format public consultation, etc.).