Social vs. Medical Model of Disability by James Edward (edited by Daisy Hannah)

Updated: Mar 10

Disablism is a form of social oppression involving the social imposition of restrictions of activity on people with impairment and the socially engendered (cause or gives rise to) undermining of their psycho-emotional wellbeing. For too long people with disabilities have been treated as second-class citizens. They have repeatedly been bombarded by messages that their bodies are defective, that they need to be fixed or cured, and that their inability to participate fully in society is because of them and their disability. Here is a break down of the social and medical model of disability that demonstrates the harm of Disableism:


The medical model states that disability is a deficiency or abnormality whereas the social model states that disability is a difference, just as a person’s gender, age or race is a difference. The medical model also states that having a disability is negative, however, the social model says that having a disability is neutral. It is a part of who you are. So to summarise, the medical model states that the disability you have is in you and it is your problem to cope with, manage and accept. The social model states that disability exists in the interaction between the individual and society. So, what does this mean?


Disability issues stem from someone with a disability trying to function in an inaccessible society. The medical model tries to remedy disability through a medical cure or by trying to make a person appear less disabled or more “normal”.The difference between the medical and social model is, that the social model states that the remedy is a change in the interaction between the individual and society - accessibility versus able


ism. This means that society changes the issues of a person with a disability. If a building is fully

accessible it doesn’t matter if a person walks in, runs in or comes in with a wheelchair or walker.


Lastly, the medical model implies that the fix or management of disability is found with professional intervention. So, the only person who can help a person with a disability fit into society, and be accepted, is a professional eg. a Doctor or psychologist. We know this not to be true from our experiences such as medical gaslighting. The social model, which is more helpful to the disabled community, says that the management or coping of a disability can be found within the individual or anyone who wants people with disabilities to be equally included in society, including you, the person reading this blog right now.


Main Points

Medical Model :



-Flawed as it believes the disabled individual needs to be fixed,

-They are less than the standard person,

- Not productive members of society,

- you're only worth as much as you can produce in life,

- all funding and research should be dedicated to a cure not a quality of life

- believes a disabled individual is broken, actively promotes and coerces selective eugenics (pushes disabled individuals to get sterilized or consider alternate options to biological reproduction)


Social Model:

– Society is flawed and broken, disabled individuals do not need to be fixed but rather

accommodated so that they may achieve the same quality of life as able-bodied individuals, -- Focused on the quality of life rather than fixing an individual,

- believes every life has worth regardless of their productive capabilities

- focuses on societal changes such as acceptance advocacy, education and accessibility

- believes in not researching cures that may not be possible or if it doesn't ultimately improve quality of life,

- puts a firm end to the practice of selective eugenics and pushing disabled individuals to get sterilized or consider alternate options for biological reproduction.




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