Raise Your Voice – The Social Model of Disability

Awright! I’m Gra, PFM’s Digital Designer, and a disabled creative. On the 9th of February, I gave a talk and chaired a discussion about the social model of disability as the first in a monthly series where PFM-ers talk about the things they care about.


The Medical Model and Social Model of Disability

A disability is “perceived impairments of an individual’s body, emotions, and mind”. Disabilities are defined as “conditions that affect a person’s physical or mental capacity or mobility”.

There are two main approaches to framing disability in society: the medical model centres the person as the problem, whereas the social model argues that barriers put up by society create a “disabling environment” which perpetuates difficulties that they may face. 

For example, while the medical model states that a person with dexterity or strength issues will struggle with opening heavy doors, the social model posits that this is evidence of the “disabling environment”, and that greater accessibility brought by automatic doors will allow that same person to thrive (relatively speaking).


A History Lesson! (in brief…sorta)

The social model came about as a result of a group of disability rights advocates inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, groups like the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) began to observe their own experiences with a new lens, questioning their relationship with society and its assumptions about their experience.


A “disabling environment”

The idea of a “disabling environment” can be tough to get your head around when you don’t experience it. It manifests in a couple ways…


Environmental Barriers

When you look at the built environment with the social model in mind, it’s much easier to see that (by-and-large) provisions are lacking. The world is built with the majority in mind and provisions are often seen as going above-and-beyond.

Imagine a museum, or just about any building built prior to the ‘80s. You’ve probably been in dozens of them, but we’ll go with a museum because museums are class. It’s much easier to see where provisions may be lacking. 

A physically disabled person approaches the Imaginary Museum and sees that it doesn’t have an accessible entrance: there are no ramps, no handrails, no lifts – nada. And so they’re left with no recourse but to miss the opportunity to see the treasures of antiquity or something.

A cognitively impaired person manages to get in the door, which is great! However, they notice that there isn’t adequate signage. There are no maps, the museum is loud, and they’re left with trouble trying to navigate the space.

A blind or partially sighted person gets in, but there’s no braille signage – and no audio description service available.

These are just a few examples considering the social model, and I’m sure you can think of many yourself. Next time you’re out and about, think about how the space may present a “disabling environment”.


Social Barriers and Attitudes

Social factors play a big part too. As they say, “hell is other people”. People’s attitudes towards the disabled are, for lack of a better word, shi- umm…guff. Apathy, ignorance and outright hostility run deep – it seems bananas, but it’s not hard to spot when you look.

Imagine someone who’s a prat, any prat. You’ve probably met dozens of them this week alone, and we can easily imagine where their mindset may suck. 

They’ve had relatively few interactions with the physically disabled and have a big empathy gap. When they hear about provisions being made at the Imaginary Museum from before, they complain. They say that building work makes the space less accessible to them (I know right – irony!) and that the addition of an accessible entrance ruins the facade of a building they’ve never previously cared about. It’s not even a real building! You’re imagining it right now!

They’ve had even less actual interaction with cognitively impaired people, but when they do, they talk about the person being “difficult” and wonder out loud “where is their carer?”.

They get into an online debate on Twitter – well known to be the best way to resolve society’s ills – with a Deaf or hard of hearing person, arguing that learning BSL in schools throttles budgets and wastes time that kids could spend learning some other thing – trigonometry maybe? Let’s say trigonometry, everyone hates trigonometry.


A “normal life”

Many disabled people will contend at some point in their lives with the idea that a normal life may be unobtainable to them. They’ll be resigned to making their peace with a limiting environment and limiting approaches. This has knock-on effects for us all.

Disabled people face a higher occurrence of depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder, among other “co-occuring disorders”.

If someone is physically disabled, they may come to accept their lack of ability to participate in activities that shouldn’t be impacted. There’s no reason that they can’t go to the Imaginary Museum and appreciate all the rusty bits of axes and the like. The same for a partially sighted person.

A person with a cognitive impairment may come to understand that without adequate provisions, they may never be able to have a career, while being castigated for their perceived “unwillingness/inability to contribute”.


What can we do?

I appreciate that this has all been a bit fraught – it’s frustrating. Everyone deserves the opportunity to thrive and live their life in the manner that they’d like to. But don’t worry! You’ve already done something important. 

Just by reading this far, you’ve done just a wee bit of self-education. You’re an advocate, I declare it. And I really appreciate you taking your time. Unless you skipped to this bit – then go back up and read the flippin’ thing, it’s only NINE HUNDRED WORDS? How did I write that much? It’s still not very much – get on it and meet me back down here where you’re officially declared a ✨superstar ✨. 



If, for some reason, you’d like to chat to me after having read that then shoot me an email at [email protected] – I’m always about to talk about inclusion and advocacy.

In Other News: MPs Call for Verification Of Social Media Accounts, WhatsApp Stresses Encryption, and The Royal Society Issues Report On COVID Disinformation

This week, we bring you more of the latest social media news to keep you on your toes and, most importantly, up-to-date with all things social! 


MPs demand social media companies block communications from unverified accounts

Following racist abuse faced by footballers following the 2020 Euros, a petition demanding compulsory photo ID verification accrued more than 500,000 signatures from concerned members of the public.

The bid to make such verification compulsory was rejected by the petitions committee, citing concerns that it could unduly target/curtail vulnerable groups freedom of expression (often called “the chilling effect”). However, they made the recommendation that users be given the option to voluntarily verify and to block all incoming communications from unverified users.

Social media companies would then have to demonstrate to Ofcom that they had taken “proportionate steps” to ensure adults were protected from “legal but harmful” abuse online. What exactly could be considered harmful and abusive, but somehow legal remains unclear at the moment.


WhatsApp launches advertising campaign centring encryption

Meta (way back when it was called Facebook) initially announced plans to integrate all of their messaging apps in 2019. A side-effect of this was that every app needed to conform to WhatsApps levels of encryption, which apparently takes about 3 years and one pandemic.

Government agencies and Law Enforcement groups across the globe have raised concerns that this might limit their capability to investigate people’s private conversations, but have assured that they only do so if they’re the baddies. However, the EU has countered that stronger encryption is likely to protect users from threats of blackmail and other kinds of cybercrime.

Conversely, in the years since WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook there has been growing concern over user’s data being shared. WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton stated in 2020 “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit”. This new move suggests that social media companies certainly won’t share users’ private data – unless they really really want to, then they might.


The Royal Society issues report on viral virus content

Following a rash of COVID misinformation, The Royal Society (a name which feels like it should have more words in it*) have suggested that the problematic aspects of removing content that is “legal but harmful” may not outweigh the potential benefits. The Society stressed that science is a process of dispute and change, and that any perceived censorship is antithetical to the scientific method.

However, The Centre for Countering Digital Hate (that’s plenty of words…) countered this, pointing to a video titled “Plandemic” which went viral in 2020, spreading disinformation about vaccines & masks before eventually being taken down after it was deemed both harmful, and difficult to monetise. Its sequel (aptly titled “Plandemic 2”) was restricted much more heavily and failed to make the same mark, a bit like Mean Girls 2.


*they do science stuff by the way






How To Add Festive Cheer To Your Social Media

As the festive period gets into full swing, we’ve put together some tips on how you can infuse your brand with holiday cheer and drive engagement.


Write what you know 

Your customers/clients appreciate your specific expertise –  ask yourself how you can leverage this more at Christmas. Find ways to target elements of your brand, driving engagement and informing your audience e.g. Can you offer tips on decorating? Do you have a festive cocktail recipe you could share? Can you talk-up festive sales? What about your employees?…


Let your employees speak

Everyone celebrates differently and the festive period offers you an opportunity to highlight how your employees and coworkers mark the occasion and the stories they have to tell. Do they go about singing carols? Do they eat mince pies and stick on the Beach Boys Christmas Album on the 1st of November? Or are they a bit bah-humbug?


Be specific

It can be tempting to hit every aspect of the festive season, but it’ll serve you better to think about what parts of Christmas fit your brand. e.g. Are you more family oriented? Maybe you can talk about gifting, or complain about the atrocious (and/or wonderfully festive) weather.


Don’t repurpose assets

Make sure your festive assets are bespoke for the season as much as you possibly can. Your audience will often recognise repurposed assets from previous years and content can age very rapidly (particularly from the 2020 festive period). So it’ll always serve you better to book some time to create new assets, take new photography, refresh your menus etc…


Think about your tone of voice

Consider your brand’s tone of voice and how you can leverage this element during the festive season. Do you load your copy with emojis? Consider this a time to change up your usual tone of voice a little and emphasise warmth and humour. There’s a-million-and-one holiday puns and this is a tree-mendous opportunity to absolutely sleigh it, and that’s a snow joke. Believe in your ‘elf, you won’t get a frosty reception.


Would you like a consultation on how to upgrade your organic social media this festive season? Contact me at [email protected], I would love to chat!

In Other News: Twitter and Pinterest introduce new features, and LinkedIn streamlines its business tools

Another weekly round-up has landed! Here you can catch up on what’s going on in the digital space. This week, we’re sharing the latest goings on with Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn. 


Twitter introduces the ‘Communities’ feature


First appearing on iOS and the Web, Twitter has introduced Communities, a user-maintained spaces for discussion, sharing and connecting with other users who share a similar interest.

“Some conversations aren’t for everyone, just the people who want to talk about the thing you want to talk about. When you join a Community, you can Tweet directly to that group instead of to all your followers. Only members in the same Community are able to reply and join the conversation so it stays intimate and relevant.” (from Twitter)


Tweets shared with a community are public, but only users within the community can like, respond, retweet… Communities are moderated by users within that community, who can invite users and manage memberships.


Pinterest introduces Idea Pin resharing


Pinterest’s story-like feature “Idea Pins” has received a new quality-of-life improvement, allowing Pinterest users to reshare their idea pins to Facebook and Instagram stories. Idea Pins differ slightly from stories on other platforms, allowing for rudimentary animation, voice over, and stock music that plays across stories natively. This requested feature could prove vital to eCommerce brands wanting to leverage greater followings on Facebook and Instagram, as well as using those platforms’ native shopping tools.


LinkedIn launches new business features


Launching on 4 October 2021, LinkedIn has announced three new features to help businesses on their platform engage with their followers and other LinkedIn users. The three new features being introduced are as follows:


Articles For Pages

Pages can now publish long-form “blog-like” content natively, a feature previously reserved only for users. This also includes a variety of audience insight tools applied to those reading the content.


Live Events

Combining their native LinkedIn Live and Scheduled LinkedIn Events tools, the new platform allows pages to promote streams, users to pre-register their attendance, notifications to registered attendees/page followers, and event replay. In addition, a page/user now only needs >150 followers to schedule a live stream.


Measure and Optimise Brand Awareness

This feature includes “Brand Lift Testing” – a baseline of brand-awareness is taken, allowing pages to measure change in brand awareness vs. these established metrics.

“Reach Optimisation” – Maximising the number of unique users seeing ads, improving exposure to relevant audiences

and “Reach/Frequency Forecasting and Reporting” – pages can now view a campaign’s predicted reach (the number of accounts having seen a post from their page) and frequency with their forecasting tool. It then measures these results in the campaign manager.

Need some help optimising your LinkedIn presence or leveraging your brand’s Idea Pins across platforms? To get a free audit of your current social strategy, get in touch at [email protected].