What is the Social Model vs Medical Model of Disability

What is the Social Model vs Medical Model of Disability?


Care Learning

3 mins READ

The way we understand disability has evolved over time. Two primary frameworks define this understanding: the Social Model and the Medical Model of Disability. These models shape policies, influence attitudes, and impact the lives of people with disabilities.

What is the Medical Model of Disability?

Definition and Focus

The Medical Model views disability as a problem of the individual. It focuses on what is “wrong” with the person. Medical professionals often use this model to diagnose and treat conditions.


  • Pathology-Centric: This model concentrates on the impairment itself—whether physical, mental, or intellectual.
  • Individual-Focused: It holds that the person with the disability needs to be “fixed” or “cured.”
  • Clinical Approach: This model relies on medical treatments, interventions, and rehabilitation.


  • A person with paraplegia is seen as someone who cannot walk and needs support to become more mobile.
  • A child with dyslexia is often viewed as having a learning disorder that needs specific educational interventions.


This approach can sometimes lead to societal exclusion. It places the burden of adaptation entirely on the individual rather than addressing societal barriers.

What is the Social Model of Disability?

Definition and Focus

The Social Model, in contrast, views disability as a result of societal barriers. It argues that disability is not an attribute of an individual but is created by the environmental, social, and attitudinal barriers they face.


  • Society-Centric: The focus shifts to the way society fails to accommodate differences.
  • Barrier-Focused: It identifies societal barriers in the physical environment, communication, and social attitudes.
  • Empowerment Approach: It advocates for changes in society to be more inclusive, rather than trying to “fix” the individual.


  • A wheelchair user is disabled by inaccessible buildings rather than their inability to walk.
  • A person with dyslexia might struggle not because of their condition but due to the lack of specialised teaching methods in schools.


The Social Model promotes societal change. It encourages creating accessible environments, adopting inclusive practices, and changing attitudes to support people with disabilities. This model aims for equality and social justice.

Comparing & Contrasting the Models


  • Medical Model: Places responsibility on the individual to overcome their limitations.
  • Social Model: Places responsibility on society to remove barriers and create an inclusive environment.


  • Medical Model: To cure or manage the disability.
  • Social Model: To support individual independence and societal participation by removing barriers.

Impact on Policies

  • Medical Model: Often results in medical interventions and specialised services.
  • Social Model: Advocates for universal design, inclusive education, and anti-discrimination laws.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Medical Model


  • Provides necessary medical and therapeutic interventions.
  • Can lead to improvements in health and quality of life.


  • May perpetuate stigma by focusing on deficits.
  • Often ignores the broader social context.

Social Model


  • Promotes inclusivity and empowerment.
  • Focuses on equality and rights.


  • May overlook the need for individual medical interventions.
  • Can be challenging to implement widespread societal changes.

Application in Practice

Health and Social Care Services

Combining both models can be beneficial. For instance, medical services can address immediate health needs, while social care services work on accessibility and inclusion. Adaptations at home, workplace accommodations, and inclusive education are examples of the Social Model in practice.


The Equality Act 2010 reflects the Social Model. It protects people from discrimination and promotes equal opportunities. Conversely, the NHS often operates under the Medical Model, providing necessary healthcare services.

Personal Perspective

From a user’s viewpoint, understanding these models can empower individuals. You may advocate for yourself more effectively. Knowing that barriers are not solely your problem but a societal issue can shift the quest for solutions.


Both the Social and Medical Models offer valuable insights into disability. The Medical Model focuses on individual impairments and treatments. The Social Model emphasises societal barriers and the need for inclusive policies. Combining both approaches can lead to a more holistic understanding and support system for people with disabilities.

Understanding these models helps shape a more inclusive society. It ensures that people with disabilities are not only treated for their conditions but are also given equal opportunities to participate fully in everyday life. By adopting both perspectives, we can work towards a society that values all its members equally.

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