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Models of disability: their influence in nursing and potential role in challenging discrimination


  • Philip Andrew Scullion

    1. Philip Andrew Scullion BSc MA RN Associate Head Department of Nursing, Midwifery and Healthcare, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, UK
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scullion p.a. (2010) Models of disability: their influence in nursing and potential role in challenging discrimination. Journal of Advanced Nursing66(3), 697–707.


Aim.  This paper presents a discussion of medical and social models of disability associated with experiences of disabled people as citizens and patients.

Background.  Disability is fairly universally a negative concept. Disabled people have frequent contact with health services, however much of this experience is viewed as discriminatory.

Data sources.  Literature was obtained using the Psych-INFO, Medline and CINAHL databases for the years 1989–2009, using derivatives of the concept ‘disability’ and associated ‘models’, and then these terms combined with ‘nursing’.

Discussion.  Nursing as a profession embraces the need to avoid discrimination, yet disability as an equal opportunity issue is relatively neglected in nursing. Nursing has a moral, professional and, in some countries, a legal responsibility to promote disability equality in the provision of nursing services. Insights offered by the social model of disability may be instrumental in empowering nurses to respond to this obligation. While some groups may not be well-represented in this model and there is risk in embracing the social model of exposing a policy-practice divide, it nevertheless represents a powerful tool for strengthening nurses’ advocacy role. In particular, ‘social advocacy’ may be enhanced by a paradigm shift away from the medical model of disability.

Implications for nursing.  Nurses have an obligation to promote disability equality in relation to the provision of health care. Adoption of the social model of disability in nursing practice, education and research as a strategy to challenge discrimination should be seriously considered.

Conclusion.  The utility value of the social model of disability in strengthening the social advocacy role of nurses should be investigated.