Explain the medical and social models of disability

Qualification: NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma for the Early Years Educator
Unit: Unit 3.13: Support children with additional needs
Learning outcome: Understand the principles of inclusive practice
Assessment criteria: Explain the medical and social models of disability


When discussing disability, there are two accepted models that help us understand how people with disabilities interact with their environment. The medical model views disability as an individualized pathology, whereas the social model views disability as a social construct. In this article, we’ll explore both models and discuss how they can be applied in everyday life.

The Medical Model of Disability

The medical model views disability as a problem or deficiency within the person. It suggests that people with disabilities should strive to become “normal” by adapting to society’s standards. This means that if someone has a physical limitation, they should be able to overcome it using technology or medicine. For example, someone who is deaf could use a hearing aid or cochlear implant to try and hear like someone without deafness.


The Social Model of Disability

The social model of disability takes a different approach; it recognizes that people with disabilities don’t need to change in order for them to fit into society—society needs to change in order for them to fit in. This means making sure public spaces are accessible and accommodating for people with disabilities. For example, adding wheelchair ramps or providing American Sign Language interpreters at events so that everyone can participate regardless of their abilities or limitations.

This model also acknowledges the discrimination and prejudice disabled people face on a daily basis; something which isn’t addressed by the medical model. People with disabilities often experience many barriers such as inaccessible buildings or negative attitudes from those around them; this is known as “ableism” and is something which needs addressing if we want everyone to have equal opportunities and rights.



In conclusion, understanding both models is essential when discussing disability because they provide two distinct perspectives on how we view disabled individuals in our society. The medical model provides useful insight into technological advances which can help individuals overcome physical limitations but doesn’t address wider issues such as discrimination and prejudice faced by people with disabilities, which is why the social model is so important too. We must consider both models when designing services so that no one gets left behind due to their ability or limitation. By doing this, we can ensure everyone has access to the same opportunities and rights regardless of their situation.

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