Our approach

The social model of disability

We follow a social model of disability. This says a person's inability to do certain things is caused by aspects of society and not by any physical or learning impairment.

For example, a person might be 'disabled' by a shop front without an access ramp or by not having access to communication systems like sign language or Makaton.

The social model of disability is important to us because it represents a consensus, among disabled people, on the way they wish to describe themselves.

The social model evolved in opposition to the medical model of disability, which sees physical or learning impairment as the cause of disability. According to this view, an impairment is something to be fixed - and when it can't be, the disability is something a person has to make the best of. 

We think the social model is a better way to a society that includes all people equally, regardless of any impairment. The solution is to rid society of the barriers that make people disabled and unable to participate fully in society. That's why everything we do aims to help disabled children and their families reach their full potential.

Rights and legislation around disability

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities guarantees disabled people the same rights to be included in society as anybody else.

The Equality Act 2010 protects disabled people from discrimination, particularly in employment, education and access to services and property.

Our approach involves helping families with disabled children understand their rights to services and support, such as children's services, benefits and help in school. When we think that current legislation doesn't do enough to break down barriers that make children disabled, we campaign for change.

Disability and language

Families with disabled children often face negative attitudes that prevent them leading ordinary lives. For example, our research on Disability Living Allowance eligibility found that many families experience stigma around claiming benefits.

We aim to promote a positive image of disabled children and their families and to increase awareness of disability among the wider public.

We use consistent and progressive language to describe disabled people in the way they have chosen to be described, but we recognise that some people are more familiar and comfortable with other terms.


What we don't do:

  • We avoid old fashioned terms, such as handicapped or (ab)normal, that emphasise the disability and suggest disabled children are special.
  • We don't say 'the disabled', 'the deaf' or any other term that treats disabled people as a group and ignores their individuality.
  • We won't use terms that imply pity, such as 'suffers from', 'is a victim of' or 'wheelchair-bound'.
  • We don't put the disability before the person, for example by saying 'autistic Sarah Smith'.


Here's what we do instead:

  • We use the terms '(non) disabled children' or 'children with additional needs'. If referring to specific education issues, we might use the term 'children with special educational needs' as this has a precise legal meaning.
  • When talking about specific conditions, we use terms such as 'children with Down syndrome' or 'children who are deaf and without speech'.
  • We use terms such as 'uses a wheelchair', 'has a diagnosis of' or 'has epilepsy'.
  • We put the person before the disability and say 'Sarah Smith, who has autism'.

Find out more about our work to tackle disability discrimination.

Related information