Significant further development in thinking about disability and impairments occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, culminating in the publication of the British Fundamental Principles of Disability in 1975. This document explicitly declared that â€œit is society which disables physically impaired peopleâ€. It introduced the subtle but crucial distinction between an impairment (a bodily function that doesnâ€™t operate as one would expect) and a disability (the difficulties caused by society to a person with an impairment).
It was Michael Oliver who built on these developments and coined the term â€˜social modelâ€™, to distinguish it from the medical model. With the latter, help is focused on the individual and his or her impairments. Within the social model, help is focused on society and accessibility. Whether a person has a mobility impairment or not is a consequence of bad luck or health care; but whether the mobility impairment prevents that person from participating (going to school, taking the train, â€¦) is up to society.
This led to a focus on universal access or design for all in building and product design. It was for example included in the famous section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act (1973) which obliged all parts of government to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with impairments. As a result, software like Windows became more accessible.
An additional source of inspiration for this development is the principle of normalization and the closely related theory of Social Role Valorisation as it emerged in the same period in Sweden and the US, spreading quickly across the world and to different areas of human service. Important ambassadors were Bengt Nirje (1925-2006) and Wolf Wolfensberger (1934-2011). A key element is to make available to people with impairments â€œpatterns of life and conditions of everyday living which are as close as possible to the regular circumstances and ways of life or societyâ€.