Shifting beliefs about disability

The way we think about disability and the beliefs we hold about disabled people have changed over time. Today, we understand that disabled people have the same rights as non-disabled people. We also know that disabled people face barriers to participating in and contributing to their communities that non-disabled people do not.

The table below shows how thinking about disability has changed over time.  

Shifts in thinking about disability




Disability is an individual problem


Disability is a problem in society

Differences in abilities are inadequacies


Differences in abilities are assets

Seeing deficits


Seeing strengths

Us and them: exclusion - tolerance


All of us: inclusion - valuing

Society choosing for ‘them’


Disabled people choosing for themselves

Professionals know best


People have different kinds of knowledge

Charity based


Rights based




Institutional orientated


Community orientated

Medical model of disability - control or cure


Social model of disability - change environment and attitudes

Tell us what you think

Page last updated: