Rethinking the relationships between disability, rehabilitation, and society

Disabil Rehabil. 1997 Jul;19(7):263-71. doi: 10.3109/09638289709166537.


This paper provides a critical review of contrasting ways of thinking about the nature of disability in society. It highlights the dominance of the medical model of disability whereby medical and rehabilitative professionals and practitioners tend to conceive of disability as an individual physiological and/or medical condition requiring the afflicted individual to be given appropriate medical and/or rehabilitative support. As the paper suggests, such perspectives are problematical because they reduce the understanding of disability to the conditions of the individual 'patient' and ignore wider social and environmental influences in engendering a state of disability. Thus, the paper highlights other perspectives on disability and society which suggest that social, attitudinal, and environmental barriers in society are an important component in disabling people with physical and/or mental impairments. In this sense, breaking down disabling social practices against people with disabilities might be as important, if not more so, than seeking to cure physical and/or mental impairments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Disabled Persons / psychology*
  • Disabled Persons / rehabilitation*
  • Ethics
  • Humans
  • Politics
  • Prejudice*
  • Public Opinion
  • Public Policy
  • Social Environment*
  • Stereotyping*