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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Disability Theory: Medical/Rehabilitative Model

This guide will provide information about the major models of disability theory.

Medical Model of Disability

The medical model of disability focuses on the medical aspects of a disability and seeks to "cure" a person of their disability so that they can return as closely as possible to a able-bodied state. In the past and even today, this is a common way that people think about disability. The problem is contained in the individual who has the disability instead of the problem being with the environment around them. A disability's solution is by medical professionals who can cure the effect of a disability with things like prosthetics, surgeries, and medications. The rehabilitative model is closely related to the medical model. It focuses on the belief that belief that if the person with a disability makes an effort and works with rehabilitative services, they can overcome their disability.

This model is criticized by many people who are disabled and disability studies researchers and advocate because of its narrow view of the full lives that people lead despite and because of their disability. Many people who are disabled feel that their disability is not something to be cured, but an integral part of their identity. The medical model is often critiqued by the social model of disability. The image below illustrates the two different models.

Cartoon of a person in a wheelchair in front of stairs that have the sign "everyone welcome." On one side of the photo is the medical model that says "Her impairment is the problem! They should cure her or give her prosthetics." The social side says "The stairs are the problem! They should build a ramp."









Information from "Disability Studies" in Sage Key Concepts: Key Concepts in Learning Disabilities.

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