Leading the lives we want to live

Published: 20/02/2024

Author: Research in Practice

How can the social model of disability be used to underpin person-centred and strengths-based approaches? Open access resources explore how to support people to lead the lives they want to live.

The resources are included within a new Evidence Review. The review has been co-produced by Research in Practice and Social Care Future. Groups of people with different experiences worked together to discuss issues that are important to them and outline the five key changes needed in social care to unlock an equal life.

The chapter considers how the social model of disability can be used to support people to overcome disabling barriers in society that prevent them from leading the lives they want to live.

How can we understand and promote the social model of disability?

The social model of disability was developed by disabled people themselves, and states that people do not ‘have disabilities’, instead they are disabled by barriers in society. Barriers can include the physical environment, people’s attitudes, communication, how organisations and systems are run, and discrimination.

Research suggests that using the social model of disability in health and social care can lead to more positive experiences, with people feeling seen as a ‘whole person’.

We are all individuals; we all have different views and experiences. We need to be asked what kind of life we would like to live.

Navigating the barriers in health and social care systems can often be difficult for people. Greater integration of services could decrease delays and stop making people feel they are being bounced between different panels and organisations.

Stereotyping can unfortunately lead to negative beliefs. One of the most effective ways for practitioners to avoid stereotyping is by utilising professional curiosity. This involves questioning and challenging the information they receive, and not only identifying concerns but making connections to better understand someone’s situation.

How can we ensure that we are acknowledging and valuing the positives when working with people?

The strengths-based model focuses on the things that are important to people – without dismissing or minimising need. Although it’s argued that this is an area where practice is ahead of research, it’s important to acknowledge and value the positive impact that accessible and inclusive practice can have on physical and mental health, and wellbeing.

Automated, confusing systems can be a barrier for older and disabled people when trying to access support. Ensuring that people are able to communicate confidently is an integral part of supporting people to navigate health and social care. Research has identified confidence, assisted communication, and a ‘sympathetic cultural space’ as being important for the take-up of support among people who are entitled to it.

In addition to professional, well-funded, care and support, it’s vital to embed kindness and empathy within an organisation. Recent findings have shown that 63% of people believe that kindness from others can have a positive impact on mental health, however, Black and ethnically minoritised people are less likely to report strong experiences of kindness in their area, and those from more privileged backgrounds experience more kindness in their communities. 

In this video, Katie Clarke talks about the importance of valuing empathy and kindness within the health and care system:

What is the impact on people of having to ‘paint the worst picture’ in order to access the help and support they need?

While strengths-based working is talked about in social care, often, many people have to concentrate solely on the negatives in order to obtain the services they are entitled to. Language is an important aspect of the social model of disability. Evidence suggests that the language which professionals use to describe the individuals they work with has an influence on how those individuals are perceived, and on how they perceive themselves.

It’s important to acknowledge the power imbalances between people who use services, carers and professionals. Co-production can help to address this asymmetry, however, organisational challenges and barriers have meant that uptake in embedding co-production has been slow. 

We know what good practice looks like. The imbalance of power means that we are not heard.

An increased focus on human rights can also address power imbalances in health and social care. Research shows that human rights can ‘provide a powerful language for the conversations that need to take place, moving away from needs or charity to fulfilling rights and duties’.

Understanding and promoting the social model of disability and integral aspect of co-producing a brighter social care future. Providing person-centred practice can support people to overcome the disabling barriers in society that prevent them from leading the lives they want to live.

An open access event on 22 March will provide an opportunity to hear key messages from the Evidence Review.

The online event, taking place as part of Social Work Week 2024, will bring together some of the people involved in the project to reflect on their experiences of co-production, and to share learning and insights around the enablers and challenges to effective co-production.

Find out more.

Sharing your changes

This article is part of a series on a new Evidence Review. Everyone is encouraged to find action points in the review that are relevant to them and consider how they can be achieved.

Research in Practice would like to hear from those who use the Evidence Review. In the spirit of co-production, you could contact us jointly with someone with care and support needs. We would be keen to feature your stories in podcasts and blogs.

A brighter social care future: co-producing the evidence to make five key changes

This Evidence Review brought together groups of people, with different lived experiences of social care, to talk about five key changes needed in social care in order to unlock an equal life.
Find out more