Disability Action North East

The medical model of disability

Medical model of disabilityThis is the traditional view of disability held by Government, disability charities, institutions, doctors, social workers, local authorities, the welfare state - in fact it is the view held by most people in the country.

This model says that a disabled person is defined by their medical diagnosis, and that this medical impairment is the 'problem'.

People supporting this view say that it is our bodies that stop us leading full lives in society. They believe that we cannot achieve the same goals as non-disabled people because our bodies are 'inadequate' or 'imperfect'. This model also views us as individual, tragic beings.

Some elements in society take this view to the extreme and say that because we do not function as non-disabled people do, we should not exist as we are individual burdens on society.

The social model of disability

Access ramp: the social model of disabilityThis approach has been developed by disabled people. It says we are restricted by the way society is set up, rather than our bodies. We are disabled by a society that continually puts barriers in our way.

It is important to remember that disabled people are equal to non-disabled people. We are not a 'special case' and we do not have 'special needs'. We have different needs, therefore some things must change before we have equality. This should be our human right.

Every opportunity should be provided to make sure that we are included, not just by changing physical access, but also by challenging attitudes, myths and stereotypes about disabled people.


Wheelchair problem!A wheelchair user can't get up the steps into a restaurant.

The medical model says the problem is that she can't walk.

The social model says the problem is that she is discriminated against by the lack of wheelchair access.


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