What is Disability?


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) started the official shift in the way ‘disability’ was recognised internationally, changing the way we view and address ‘disability’ from something called the “medical model” to what what we now use… the “social model”.

According to the medical model of disability, ‘disability’ is a health condition dealt with by medical professionals. ‘Disability’ is seen ‘to be a problem of the individual. From the medical model, a person with disability is in need of being fixed or cured. From this point of view, disability is a tragedy and people with disability are to be pitied. People with disability are seen as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection. The medical model of disability is all about what a person cannot do and cannot be.

Nowadays, we use the social model of disability. According to the social model of disability, ‘disability’ is socially constructed. ‘Disability’ is the result of the interaction between people living with impairments (which is a medical condition) and an environment filled with physical, attitudinal, communication and social barriers. It therefore carries the implication that the physical, attitudinal, communication and social environment must change to enable people living with impairments to participate in society on an equal basis with others.

The Disability Convention states that “persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

Barriers can be slowly removed with the assistance of all of society. Physical barriers are lowered when we provide more accessible options. Attitudinal barriers are lowered when we ignore steroetypes, don’t stigmatize people, and stop discriminating. Communication barriers are lowered when we provide accessible options and society considers the different ways of communication.

Disability awareness helps lower all the barriers. So, Happy International Day of People with Disabilities!



  1. United Nations Enable, Frequently Asked Questions regarding the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=151#sqc3.
  2. People with Disabilities Australia, The Social Model of Disability, http://www.pwd.org.au/student-section/the-social-model-of-disability.html.

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