Social vs Medical

In our society in the United States, we have developed a wide range of classifications to defining individuals who struggle with disabilities. The two primary definitions that have been developed and that are well known in comparison to the others are the medical and social model of disability. Although these definitions both do address the issues of someone with disabilities and how they function in society, these two classifications are highly different in the manner in which they approach the individual’s difficulties.

For starters, the medical model of disability views the impairment as a problem that affects and belongs to only the individual. Primarily it is not seen as an issue that should be concerned with by anyone other than that person who struggles with the disability. For example, “…if a wheelchair using student is unable to get into a building because of some steps, the medical model would suggest that this is because of the wheelchair, rather than the steps.” (University 2007) This approach is based on the belief that the difficulties associated with the disability should be dealt with by only the disabled person. It is thought that the person affected with the disability should be the one to make the extra effort, perhaps either through time or money, to ensure that they do not burden the other members of their society. (Disabled 2010)

In contrast, the social model of disability draws on the idea that it is “…society that disables people…” (University 2007) From this model, it is looked at as such because through designing everything in the public to meet the needs of the majority of people who are not disabled, you there by prevent the disabled to properly live within their own world. Going back to the previous example of a student attempting to get into a building using a wheelchair, the social model of disability would see the steps as the disabling barrier; not looking at the individual as the one whom is disabled. Within this model, it is recognized that there is a great deal that society can do to reduce, and eventually eliminate, some of these disabling barriers; in addition, this task is the responsibility of the society, rather than the disabled person. (University 2007)

Contrary to this model, to reiterate once more, the medical model is presented as viewing disability as a problem of the person. With this model, the primary goal is aimed at a “cure”, or to the individual’s adjustment and behavioral change that would then lead to an “almost-cure”. Medical care is what is viewed as the main issue, not if they are thriving and contributing as an individual in society. (Disability 2010)

In comparison, the social model is much more comprehensive in approach. It dotes on the notion that there is substantial pro-active thought being given to how disabled people can participate in activities on an equal footing with non-disabled people; in addition, it does so with minimal adjustments being made, even where this involves time or money, to ensure that disabled people are not being excluded from life. (University 2007) It sees the issue of disability as a socially constructed problem. In this model, disability is not an attribute of an individual, but rather a complex collection of conditions, many of which are created by the social environment. (Disability 2010)

From these distinct disability model differences it can be seen how it would be difficult to independently place the responsibility of the disability on the person as well as upon the society. It can be argued that the management of the “problem” requires social action and is the collective obligation of society at large to make the modifications necessary for the participation of people with disabilities. However, it can also be seen how numerous individuals in society would prefer to not assist with the disabled when it does not directly impact their own existence. Nevertheless the issue of permitting the disabled free access into their society is an aspect of life that deserves assistance from the public. Equal access for someone with a disability is a human rights issue of major concern.



Disabled World. 10 September, 2010. Definition of the models of disability. “Definitions.” Retrieved from:

University of Leicester. 26 January, 2007. The social and medical model of disability. “Student support and development service.” Retrieved from:


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