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  • The Medical Model of Disability


    Under this model of disability, disabled people's inability to join in society is seen as a direct result of having an impairment and not as the result of features of our society which can be changed.


    When people such as policy makers and managers think about disability in this individual way they tend to concentrate their efforts on 'compensating' people with impairments for what is 'wrong' with their bodies by targeting 'special' welfare benefits at them and providing segregated 'special' services for them and so on.


    The medical model of disability also affects the way disabled people think about themselves. Many disabled people internalise the negative message that all disabled people's problems stem from not having 'normal' bodies. Disabled people too can be led to believe that their impairments automatically prevent them from participating in social activities. This internalised oppression can make disabled people less likely to challenge their exclusion from mainstream society.


    A 'classic' example of the medical model of disability happened to me in 2001.


    The Social Model of Disability


    The social model of disability makes the important distinction between 'impairment' and 'disability'.


    The social model has been worked out by disabled people who feel that the individual model does not provide an adequate explanation for their exclusion from mainstream society - because their experiences have shown them that in reality most of their problems are not caused by their impairments, but by the way society is organised.


    So, in a social model of disability the key definitions are:

    • Impairment

    An injury, illness, or congenital condition that causes or is likely to cause a long term effect on physical appearance and / or limitation of function within the individual that differs from the commonplace.

    • Disability

    The loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in society on an equal level with others due to social and environmental barriers.


    In this model, the individual model definitions of impairment and disability are combined as 'impairment'. This means that both the cause of functional limitation and the functional limitation within the individual itself are separated from external factors.


    Disability is shown as being caused by 'barriers' or elements of social organisation which take no or little account of people who have impairments.


    Society is shown to disable people who have impairments because the way it has been set up prevents disabled people from taking part in every day life. It follows that if disabled people are to be able to join in mainstream society, the way society is organised must be changed. Removing the barriers which exclude (disable) people who have impairments can bring about this change.


    (with thanks to the Disabled World websitegoes to an external link)