Medical model of disability

The medical model of disability is a sociopolitical model by which illness or disability, being the result of a physical condition, and which is intrinsic to the individual (it is part of that individual’s own body), may reduce the individual's quality of life, and causes clear disadvantages to the individual.

It is today specifically referred to as the "medical model" of disability because of the high degree to which medical solutions, such as surgeries, orthotics and clinical physical therapy, are emphasized, and how they are intended chiefly as a way to "normalize" a disabled person's participation in society as much as possible. When referred to as the "medical model" rather than simply taken as the default model of disability (as it was at one time), the chief intent is usually to contrast it with the social model of disability, an opposing model.

The medical model tends to believe that 'curing' or at least 'managing' illness or disability mostly or completely revolves around identifying the illness or disability from an in-depth clinical perspective (in the sense of the scientific understanding undertaken by trained healthcare providers), understanding it, and learning to 'control' and/or alter its course. By extension, the medical model also believes that a "compassionate" or just society invests resources in health care and related services in an attempt to 'cure' disabilities medically, to expand functionality and/or improve functioning, and to allow disabled persons a more "normal" life. The medical profession's responsibility and potential in this area is seen as central.

Among advocates of disability rights, who tend to subscribe to the social model instead, the medical model of disability is often cited as the basis of an unintended social degradation of disabled people; further, resources are seen as excessively misdirected towards an almost-exclusively medical focus when those same resources could be used towards things like universal design and societal inclusionary practices. This includes the monetary and the societal costs and benefits of various interventions, be they medical, surgical, social or occupational, from prosthetics, drug-based and other "cures", and medical tests such as genetic screening or preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Often, a medical model of disability is used to justify large investment in these procedures, technologies and research, when adaptation of the disabled person's environment might ultimately be more beneficial to the society at large, as well as financially cheaper and physically more attainable.

Further, some disability rights groups see the medical model of disability as a civil rights issue, and criticise charitable or medical initiatives that use it in their portrayal of disabled people, because it promotes a pitiable, essentially negative, largely disempowered image of people with disabilities, rather than casting disability as a political, social and environmental problem (see also the political slogan "piss on pity"). Various sociologists (Zola, Parsons) studied the socio-cultural aspects of "normalcy" and the pressure it exerts on individuals to conform[citation needed].

The recent World Health Organization ICF Classification (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health)takes into account the social aspects of disability and does not see disability only as a 'medical' or 'biological' dysfunction.[1]

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