The road to empowerment: a historical perspective on the medicalization of disability

J Health Hum Serv Adm. 2007 Winter;30(3):352-77.


The aims of this paper are to analyze the role of medical and health professions in creating and establishing the disability category. We also explore how the diagnosis, measurement, and treatment of disability have contributed to stigmatization and promoted social, political and economic inequality. Theories from a variety of disciplines are used to examine the ways that medicine and the health-related professions have contributed to the oppression of people with disabilities, including the maintenance of a 'medical/knowledge power differential,' reinforcement of the 'sick role,' and objectification of people with disabilities. We also explore opportunities for empowerment versus 'sick role' status. The medical and health professions are uniquely positioned to promote the empowerment of people with disabilities as active partners in their own health care. Replacing the biomedical model of disability with a socio-political model that prioritizes disease/health care management, wellness and prevention of further disability as opposed to treatments aimed at curing disability could facilitate the empowerment process.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Disabled Persons / history*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Power, Psychological
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Self Efficacy*
  • Sick Role
  • Social Justice
  • Sociology, Medical / history*
  • Stereotyping*
  • United States