Disability in Modern British Society

Topics: Disability, Sociology, Special education Pages: 10 (1600 words) Published: December 28, 2008
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
Wide Web:
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