Several models of defining disability have been developed to try to address the many types of disabilities. Models of disability provide a reference for society as programs and services, laws, regulations and structures are developed, which affect the lives of people living with a disability. The primary models of disability used are the Medical Model, Functional Model, and Social Model.
Medical Model – The medical model describes disability as a consequence of a health condition, disease or caused by a trauma that can disrupt the functioning of a person in a physiological or cognitive way.14 This model is a conceptualization of disability as a condition a person has and focuses on the prevention, treatment or curing of the disabling condition.
Functional Model – This model is similar to the medical model in that it conceptualizes disability as an impairment or deficit. Disability is caused by physical, medical or cognitive deficits. The disability itself limits a person’s functioning or the ability to perform functional activities.
Social Model – This model focuses on barriers facing people with disabilities instead of concentrating on impairments and deficits of the person with a disability. In this model a person’s activities are limited not by the impairment or condition but by environment and barriers are consequences of a lack of social organization.14
Example: Mark is 32 and is employed as a computer programmer at a manufacturing company. He was involved in a car accident at 21 years of age that resulted in a lower limb amputation. He uses a motorized scooter to get around locally, and drives an adapted van. He has a secondary health condition of Type 2 Diabetes. When visiting medical doctors, the care Mark receives is impacted by the way in which his disability is perceived. His Endocrinologist sees Mark’s physical disability as an illness or deficit that prevents him from living a healthy life (Medical Model of Disability) and does not recommend the same interventions that he would for a person without disabilities like a diet and exercise program. His primary care doctor does not have an accessible examination table or wide enough aisles for his scooter and views his difficulty getting on the examination table as a functional limitation (Functional Model of Disability) Mark faces as the result of the disability. His dietitian recommends a program of diet and exercise as an intervention for his diabetes, but his local gym is not accessible for people with mobility issues. This creates a barrier for him to exercise regularly (Social Model of Disability).