Critical Literature Review on the Social Construction of Disability | Sample Assignment of Social Science


Anastasiou & Kauffman (2013) in his research has defined disability as the disadvantage of activity. Another researcher Guffey (2017) discusses that disability is modern concept which explains a system wherein society often show discrimination by putting certain kind of restrictions on people with impairments. The view of disability resulted from the psychological fear of the people. However, disability may also be defined as a long term condition which usually limits the daily activities of an individual. There are several types of disabilities including physical, sensory, neurological and psychiatric (Logan et al. 2018). The limitations experienced by the disabled people can be overcomed by using appropriate aids and services. But society has perceived disability differently and in a negative way. This usually put a negative influence on the people with disabilities as they get mentally weak and depressed in certain cases. However, there are social models of disability that examine the barriers that prevent the disabled people from taking part in the situations so that they do not feel disabled mentally. Disability is a physical restriction of certain people but due to society, people can get mentally disabled. So, social model of disability aims to determine all those barriers for the disabled people. The purpose of this essay is to discuss various arguments for the social construction of disability. The essay also aims at analysing the weaknesses and limitations of these arguments.

Social Construction of Disability

Logan et al. (2018) defines social construction as the process, in which, the natural types of behaviour usually come to be regulated by the social process. Many forms of human behaviour are socially constructed as put forward by the sociologists. In simpler terms, everything which an individual does, thinks and feels is taken in different ways. It is due to this that different kinds of ideas are put into people by the society as they grow up. These ideas are used by the people during their adult age so that they can lead a successful life. Researchers argue that within society, disabled children are often kept in separate schools so that the general public do not feel uneasy (Lhowe, 2018). So, this perception of diabled people being different and not normal is developed as people grow.

Moore (2020) argues that language is a powerful way of construction. It is a key way to get knowledge and awareness. However, language changes with time with respect to its use and words. There are various words that have been used in society for describing people with disabilities. These include spastic, moron, handicapped. There are other terms also used for describing people with disabilities including spastic and spasmodic. It is a derogatory term but often used by medical professionals (Muyor-Rodriguez, Manzano-Agugliaro & Garrido-Cardenas, 2019).

Besides the language, there are various models of disability that have been considered in society to form perspectives about the disable people including medical model of disability and social model of disability.

Medical model of disability

Medical model of disability is often used by the researchers to view disabled people. As per this model, it is indicated that disabled people are unable to play a full role in society since they are considered not competent (Muyor-Rodriguez, Manzano-Agugliaro & Garrido-Cardenas, 2019).  This model indicates that any individual is disabled due to his impairments/differences. The impairments or differences should be fixed or altered by medical care even when the physical disability does not create any pain. This model focuses on what is wrong with the individual and not concerned with the needs. There are low expectations and results in negative impact on the individual (Oliver, 2013). It also deteriorates the morale of the disabled person to make any choice for himself or have any preferences. They are unable to control their own lives. This model is not applicable for empowering the disabled people.

Social Model of Disability

Researchers argue that disabled people are made to feel that it is their problem that they are different (Oliver, 2013). The key difference between disabled people and normal people is that they have a body part which is restricted in its functioning. However, this does not matter since there is no criteria to be a less human being. But disabled people are made to feel by society that having a disability makes them less of a human being and they are not the same. Sociologists argue that barriers and discriminatory practices make disable people more uncomfortable. They are not that uncomfortable with their disability but the societal trauma makes them disable more (Smith, 2021). This is focussed on the Social Model of Disability. This model indicates that disability is caused by the way society is organised. It is not caused by the impairment or difference of the individual. Therefore, the focus has to be on removing the barriers so as to limit the choices for life. However, disabled people can be empowered and equal in society like other people when there are no barriers at all. They can have their own choices and control as well. Social model of disability is developed by the disabled people since the medical model did not describe experience of disability. This could help in developing inclusive living ways. Social model approaches argue that the disabled people are isolated from society due to several barriers (Shyman, 2016). For instance, disabled people often use a wheelchair when a building does not have a suitable facility for their movement. A deaf person is disabled when a service provider does not have a suitable hearing aid. So, the model suggests that the problem is not with the disabled individual, but rather lack of proper facilities for the diabled people that makes them feel bad. This approach is considered as the disability of a social construct, with respect to medical and political agenda (Wehmeyer & Shogren, 2017).

However, the social model of disability ensures that disable people can be strong mentally and they can feel good about themselves. They should be empowered to fight. The model also emphasises on the fact that disabled people who have been experiencing it for years is a key concern and should be managed by taking various strategies.

Comparison of different disability models

Sociologists argue that different disability models have different characteristics. However, the social model of disability is the newly adopted model as it aims at empowering the disable people and providing them a sense of freedom in their life. On the contrary, the medical model of disability negatively influences the disable people and makes them isolated from society. There are different examples indicating the effectiveness of different models (Wehmeyer & Shogren, 2017). For instance, a disable person cannot move so a ramp would be available for him at the entrance, as per the social model solution. However, as per medical model, there would not be many solutions. There would not be any arrangements for facilitating the easy movement of disable people. Another example is a teenager who has a learning problem needs a job to earn his livelihood and feel freedom. So, as per the social model of disability, he would get support from different organisations that hire disable people. But the disable teenager would not get any help from the society, as per the medical model of disability due to his physical restrictions that make him less competent than others. The third example is of a child who has a vision disability but has a desire to read the best books so that he can share his experiences with his friends. As per social model of disability, he could get full text audio recordings so that children like him do not miss on reading the best books. But he would not get any such facility in the case of a medical model of disability.

Hence, the medical model of disability has several limitations and weaknesses due to which it is not applicable in today’s social construct of disability. This model makes disable people weak due to which they are not able to lead a happy life unlike normal people.


Based on the social model of disability and arguments of various sociologists about disability, the problem of disability can be resolved by restructuring society. This needs to be achieved so that it can benefit the society as a whole. The personal and collective disadvantage of the disabled people is because of the discrimination in the society (Shyman, 2016). It is because of this the activities of social workers should be focussed on empowering the individuals to cope with the barriers for the disabled people.  There is a need to provide support to implement choice and control by coping with disability impact of discrimination. This can be done by encouraging self-determination among the disabled people so that they can become independent and can take full part in society rather than just being isolated (Moore, 2020). This should be started in schools so that children can be made to learn about normalcy and disability right in their early years. For instance, disabled children should be made to study in the same schools as others irrespective of the severity of the disability. There is a need to understand the difference between the social and medical model of disability properly.


Anastasiou, D., & Kauffman, J. M. (2013, August). The social model of disability: Dichotomy between impairment and disability. In The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy: A forum for bioethics and philosophy of medicine (Vol. 38, No. 4, pp. 441-459). Oxford University Press.

Guffey, E. (2017). Designing disability: Symbols, space, and society. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Logan, S. W., Bogart, K. R., Ross, S. M., & Woekel, E. (2018). Mobility is a fundamental human right: Factors predicting attitudes toward self-directed mobility. Disability and health journal, 11(4), 562-567.

Lhowe, C. (2018). Designing Disability: Symbols, Space, and Society.

Moore, A. (2020). Disability as a Social Justice Imperative: Historical, Theoretical, and Practical Implications. In Social Justice and Putting Theory Into Practice in Schools and Communities (pp. 210-226). IGI Global.

Muyor-Rodriguez, J., Manzano-Agugliaro, F., & Garrido-Cardenas, J. A. (2019). The state of global research on social work and disability. Social work in health care, 58(9), 839-853.

Oliver, M. (2013). The social model of disability: Thirty years on. Disability & society, 28(7), 1024-1026.

Smith, S. (2021). What’s in a word? Rephrasing and reframing disability. Lived Experiences of Ableism in Academia: Strategies for Inclusion in Higher Education, 73.

Shyman, E. (2016). The reinforcement of ableism: Normality, the medical model of disability, and humanism in applied behavior analysis and ASD. Intellectual and developmental disabilities, 54(5), 366-376.

Wehmeyer, M. L., & Shogren, K. A. (2017). Applications of the self-determination construct to disability. In Development of self-determination through the life-course (pp. 111-123). Springer, Dordrecht.