Discuss the levels of inequality or disadvantage
encountered by disability in modern British Society.
Approximately 8.5 million people in the United Kingdom are registered
disabled (Office of National Statistics 2002 cited in Giddens 2006:287).
Definitions of disability is important to the way in which its nature is
investigated and also to its extent in society. This essay will illustrate
the broad definitions of disability and the dissimilarity between
disability and impairment. It will also discuss how in modern British
Society inequality and disadvantages are still being encountered by the
disabled and the policies that have been put into place to counteract
The Collins Concise English Dictionary 1986 defines disability as “The
condition of being unable to perform task or function because of a
physical or mental impairment”. This focuses on the inability of the
individual. In contrast, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Giddens
2006:287) defines “A person has a disability if he or she has a physical
or mental impairment which has a substantial or long term adverse
effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.
This definition highlights the external oppression of society rather than
something lacking in the individual. These two examples carry very
different emphases on what makes an individual “disabled” and indeed
accentuates the different constructions of disability in modern British
In the outset the individual model which is described as the dominant
understanding of disability insists that individual limitations are the
major root of the problems experienced by disabled people. This
model is also recognized as the “medical model” as it is seen that
medical specialists play an important role in the diagnosis, curative
and rehabilitation to the “problems” of disabled people. In recent
decades this model has been challenged, largely by disabled people.
The Union of Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS)
developed a radical alternative to the individual model by disputing
that there was a vital distinction between “disability” and “impairment”
which were then arguably viewed as the same? The UPIAS definition of
impairment is “Lacking part of or all of a limb, or having a defective
limb, organ or mechanism of the body”. (Giddens 2006:281) This
definition was fundamentally accepted as a biomedical property of
individuals. Disability which UPIAS defines as “The disadvantage or
restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organization
which takes no or little account of people who have physical
impairments and thus excludes them from participation in the
mainstream of social activities”. (Giddens 2006:281). This can also be
related to how the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 defines disability
in addition, how society oppresses disability rather than the individual.
With UPIAS in mind the social model of disability was developed. The
social model placed emphasis on why there are social, cultural and
historical barriers against disabled people. Paul Hunt who was a
founding member of UPIAS argued that “the problem of disability lies
not only in the impairment of function and its effects on us
individually, but also, more importantly, in the area of our relationship
with “normal” people”. (Hunt 1966 citied in Giddens 2006:281).
Medical sociologists disparaging of the social model argue that
individuals cannot always participate fully in society due to
impairments including pain and intellectual limitations and a change in
society cannot alter this. Arguably this is where medical sociologists do
not take into account the distinction between disability and
The early 1900’s gave rise to the emergence of the institutional
response to disability. Such interventions believed in the...
Bibliography: Barton, L. (2001). Disability, Politics & The Struggle For Change.
Giddens, A. (2006). Sociology (5th Edition). Cambridge: Polity Press.
Haralambos, M., Heald, R. and Holborn, M. (Eds. 2004). Sociology
Themes and Perspectives (6th Edition)
(Accessed 25th October 2008). Available from World Wide Web:
Joseph Rowntree Foundation. (2008). Housing and disabled children.
(online). (Accessed 25th October 2008). Available from World
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