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Nursing's Approach to Disability: The Neglected Role of Social and Affirmation Models

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Nursing as a profession embraces the need to avoid discrimination, yet disability as an equal opportunity issue is relatively neglected in nursing" (Scullion, 2010). Outline the key features of the medical, social and affirmation models of disability and critically discuss their impacts on healthcare provision. 

Disability is a condition wherein the patient requires a greater amount of assistance from the healthcare practitioners and staff. It is observed that discrimination exists in the healthcare system even though patients with a disability must be attended to actively and their issues must be resolved through proper care and treatment. This essay will draw critical discussion on the models of disability and their impact on the treatment and care of patients. The responsibility of nursing towards patients is moral, social, and sometimes legal (Barton, 2017). The healthcare system has a dearth of promoting and providing equality in disability models in the provision of the healthcare industry. The issue underlies the application of the social model that comprises a significant gap between the policy and its practice in reality. 

This paper discusses the issue of considering disability as an equal opportunity issue by the healthcare staff like nurses and how medical, social, and affirmation models help in aiding the disability management framework in a healthcare setting. The paper will discuss the key characteristics of each of these models and critically evaluate their impact on healthcare provision. It will also discuss the role of nurses in promoting and educating on the subject of disability as a social obligation. The challenge of discrimination will be studied in the context of the means adopted to eradicate the issue from its roots. The role of research and education will be discussed in making social advocacy more resilient (Barton, 2017).


Nursing requires being a non-discriminatory profession wherein all disabled patients with special needs must be attended to unbiasedly. But the issue of equal opportunity in disability has been ignored by practitioners in nursing. To promote equal opportunity in disability, education, research, and developing social, medical, and affirmation models have been used. Still, there is a dearth in addressing the issue holistically. In the context of the healthcare and nursing profession, nurses are obliged to educate and promote disability equality through the adoption of models. The main issue is the practical application of the social model of disability to eradicate discrimination by an appropriate strategy (Guevara, 2021). 

The medical model of disability and its impact 

This model encompasses the disability diagnosis of the physical body of an individual with a disability. The means for curing or treating these disabilities is through medical intervention in this model. This model also advocates investment by society for the medical treatment of disabled people. This model focuses on the functionality to make disabled patients self-reliant and lead a normal life. It accounts for the physical condition as the intrinsic aspect of the individual and managing and curing it with in-depth medical intervention (Degener, 2017). 

This model failed to determine the personal experience of patients and the role of society and environment in the equal opportunity issue of disability. It omitted the stereotypical view of society towards the patient. It focused on the limitation rather than the society (Guevara, 2021). 

The Impact 

This model led to disablism and differential treatment of disabled people due to the focus on invalidating the non-conformity of an individual. Further, it led to the abuse of patients and restricting human rights. Abuse refers to the ill-treatment of patients by healthcare workers (Guevara, 2021). Medical workers were indulged in the diagnosed impairment and overlooked social and ethical code of conduct that led to the abuse of the disabled individual. One more barrier in holistic care was the negative mindset of healthcare providers and they were proved to be inefficient in treating and managing disabled people (Degener, 2017). 


Social and medical models of disability and mental health: evolution and renewal by Andrew J. Hogan were helpful in the critical study of the model and drawing a comparison between the social and medical model of disability. The article, "Disability in a Human Rights Context" by Theresia DeGeneres is a commendable work in highlighting the social issues of disabled individuals due to the medical model.

The social model of disability and its impact 

This model derives out of limitations of the medical model of disability. It focuses on the inclusion of barriers, negative attitudes, and isolation from society. Its main components include impairments, participatory restrictions, and activity limitations. This model emphasizes the role of society and its people in managing and including individuals with impairment due to variations in physical, intellectual, and psychological aspects (Wilson et al., 2019). The factors resulting in the disability go beyond the human body to include the environment as a key aspect. In a nutshell. This model defines disability as a consequence of social barriers and limitations that lead to a specific impairment. One basic example of this model is the absence of an elevator for a person who cannot walk (Kattari, Lavery, and Hasche, 2017). 

The social model exhorts the effect of the social devaluation of disabled individuals and their exclusion from society. This model highlights that disabled people are segregated and restricted from mainstream activities and do not consider their physical impairments. Negative assumptions, policies, and procedures lead healthcare practitioners and care providers to neglect the issue of equal opportunity for disabled people (Wilson et al., 2019). 

The impact 

After thorough study and highlighting the issue of equal opportunity of disability, the nursing department had to accept the existence of the issue in the nursing profession. This facilitated the use of the social model for restoring a sound structure and care procedure. This led to the acceptance by nurses for the need of revising the dimensions of disability to make it more favorable and acceptable both socially and ethically. Alteration of societal perception can take place only if nurses promote equal opportunity for all disabled patients in a sound structure (Kattari, Lavery, and Hasche, 2017).


Rethinking disability: the social model of disability and chronic disease by Sara Goering helped understand the social model of disability and its impact on the nursing provision. “Disability, Politics, and the Struggle for Change" book by Len Barton is an insightful work for understanding the social model and its implication on the nursing provision (Kattari, Lavery, and Hasche, 2017).

Affirmation Model of disability and its impact 

This model required the society and nursing department to look at disability from a different and positive outlook. It focused on looking at the person as a normal person and not considering and emphasizing his/her disability. It exhorts the need for making disabled individuals' indigenous aspect of society (Cameron, 2014). This model highlights the oppressive perception of disabled patients to make them feel inferior and abnormal. It includes normalizing the impairment and lack of a physical or psychological aspect. The non-tragic view of disabled individuals aims at exploring and restoring the collective and individual identity of the person with impairment (Heyman, 2018).

The impact 

The impact of the affirmation model lies in its application. It led to the inclusion of disabled people in society and eliminating restrictions from performing mainstream activities. This model stems out of the social model that viewed the ‘impairment’ as a limitation (Cameron, 2014). The impact of this model is realistic and positive as it aims at normalizing the disability by educating and promoting society. Nurses need to be more encouraging and informed to facilitate holistic care and promote equal opportunity for disabled people (Heyman, 2018). 


The book by Peggy Quin, “Understanding Disability- A Lifespan Approach” was enlightening for understanding the need for a change in the societal perception and outlook towards the disability and disabled individuals. Further, the journal by John Swain and Sally French, "Towards an Affirmation Model" is helpful in a critical understanding of the model (Heyman, 2018). 


From the above discussion, it was proven that disability has been inadequately attended by practitioners and there is a dearth of policies that support disability equal opportunity in nursing provision. The paper discussed the medical model of disability that viewed it as a functional limitation solely and emphasized medical intervention and the physical impairment only. it did not include the role of society and environment as the means for the disability. Nurses and other healthcare practitioners were overwhelmed by the condition and it led to their maltreatment by these practitioners who discriminated against disabled individuals. The limitation paved way for the social model of disability that discussed the role of society in making individuals with impairment feel and perceive themselves as people limited by their ability to perform mainstream tasks. It emphasized the role of society to make the environment more compassionate and favorable for a disabled group of people. it exhorted the need for nurses to promote equal opportunity among disabled individuals. But it still viewed the disability as a functional limitation. The third model of affirmation emphasized changing the outlook towards the person with a physical, sensory, or intellectual impairment. It aims at normalizing impairment and making disabled people an indigenous element of society and hence promoting equal opportunity. This paper discusses the role of nurses and healthcare practitioners in making the environment more favorable for promoting equal opportunity for the disabled group.


  • Barton, L., 2017. Disability, empowerment and physical education. In Equality, Equity and Physical Education (pp. 43-54). Routledge.
  • Cameron, C., 2014. The affirmation model. Disability Studies: A Student’s Guide, pp.4-7.
  • Degener, T., 2017. A new human rights model of disability. In The United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (pp. 41-59). Springer, Cham.
  • Guevara, A., 2021. The Need to Reimagine Disability Rights Law Because the Medical Model of Disability Fails Us All. Wis. L. Rev., p.269.
  • Heyman, A., 2018. What do young adult carers learn through supporting family members? Extending the affirmation model. Disability & Society, 33(8), pp.1191-1211.
  • Kattari, S.K., Lavery, A. and Hasche, L., 2017. Applying a social model of disability across the life span. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 27(8), pp.865-880.
  • Wilson, N.J., Wiese, M., Lewis, P., Jaques, H. and O'Reilly, K., 2019. Nurses working in intellectual disability?specific settings talk about the uniqueness of their role: a qualitative study. Journal of advanced nursing, 75(4), pp.812-822.
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