• discourse;
  • intellectual disability;
  • models of disability;
  • Q method


Background  The social and medical models of disability configure the relationship between disability and impairment differently. Neither of these models has provided a comprehensive theoretical or practical basis for talking about intellectual disability (ID). Models that emphasise the interactive nature of disability appear to be more promising. This study explores the ways in which models of disability are reflected in disability discourse in an empirical discourse analysis conducted in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.

Methods  Q methodology was used in this study as a discourse analysis tool. Adults with ID, parents of children with ID and professionals who work with people with ID completed a sorting task where they stated the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with statements that are made about people with ID. This exercise resulted in a pattern of responses for each participant, termed a Q sort and these were used as data in a factor analysis using dedicated Q method software. A second order factor analysis was then performed on the resulting factors.

Results  Four discourses were identified: the Social Model/Human Rights Discourse, the Medical Model/Professional Religious Discourse, the Community Model/Community Religious Discourse and the Interactive Discourse. Except for the last one, each of these discourses adopts a model of disability with a static view of impairment as fixed. The Interactive Discourse appears to be related to dynamic, environmental conceptions of disability where competence is built through social interaction.

Conclusions  A theory of (poss)ability is proposed and some of its concerns are suggested. This perspective views impairment as an interaction between individuals and their environment and postulates that competence is a function of context, rather than a property of the individual.