Framing disability — Prototype

In early 2013, the simulation team went to Toronto to think about ways of illuminating the problems involved in finding employment for disabled youth.

Steve Williams discusses this prototype he developed which helps to illustrate ways in which disability has been framed.

This model represents the changing models of understanding and representing disability. The models, and the language we use to describe disability, have changed radically over time. The Medical model, characterized by phrases such as “mental retardation”, “impairment”, and “handicap”, gave way to the Social model (inclusion vs. exclusion). Now we are using the Human Rights model. The Human Rights model arises from the premise that all people have basic rights and that people with disability are entitled to those rights just as we all are. This model shows through media analysis the rise and fall of these terms in public discourse. The model also includes an example of using Google Trends to map changes over time along with geographical distribution of terms used. The model also shows how national and international agreements on the topic of disability have changed to reflect changing narrative framing. Awareness of these narrative frames—and the ability to change them—is a key element of the initial stages of a Social Innovation Lab.

Play with the prototype.

We will be featuring more of Steve Williams’ models developed for SiG@Waterloo, and his thinking about these issues, on Social Innovation SimulationSteve Williams blogs on visualization and modelling at


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