Medical Model vs Social Model of Disability: A Helpful Guide

Understanding disability is a crucial aspect of fostering an inclusive and supportive workplace. In the realm of disability perspectives, two primary models often come into play: the Medical Model and the Social Model. This article will provide you with an overview of these models and their relevance in the context of the neurodivergent community. We’ll explore how different individuals may lean towards one or a blend of both models and why it’s essential for people leaders and peers of neurodivergent employees to appreciate these varying viewpoints.

The Medical Model of Disability

The Medical Model of Disability views disability as a medical condition or impairment that requires diagnosis, treatment, and intervention. It tends to focus on the individual’s limitations, aiming to “fix” or “cure” their condition.

The Social Model of Disability

In contrast, the Social Model of Disability perceives disability as a result of societal barriers, prejudices, and discrimination. It suggests that people are disabled not by their impairments but by the way society is structured and the attitudes held by others.

The Neurodivergent Perspective

When it comes to the neurodivergent community, many individuals tend to lean towards the Social Model. They see neurodiversity as a natural variation in the human population and emphasise the importance of accommodating and embracing differences. This perspective focuses on removing barriers and creating an inclusive environment for neurodivergent individuals, such as those with autism, ADHD, or dyslexia.

Blending Models for Higher Support Needs

It’s important to note that individuals with higher support needs, such as those with more significant comorbid disabilities (such as dyspraxia), often prefer a blend of both the Medical and Social Models. In such cases, the Medical Model may provide essential medical care and support, while the Social Model helps address societal barriers and promote inclusion.

Practical Examples of the Difference

To illustrate the difference between the two models, let’s consider a workplace scenario:

Medical Model Perspective:

  • An employee with “higher support needs” autism receives specialised therapy to help manage their condition.
  • The focus is on diagnosing and treating the individual’s condition from a medical standpoint.

Social Model Perspective:

  • The workplace adopts inclusive practices like sensory-friendly environments, flexible work arrangements, and training for co-workers.
  • The focus is on accommodating and accepting the individual’s unique needs and abilities.

Blended Model Perspective:

  • An employee with a physical disability receives medical treatment, such as physical therapy, and the workplace provides accessibility features like ramps and accessible restrooms.
  • The focus is on both medical support and addressing physical barriers.

The Importance of Both Perspectives

Recognising and respecting both the Medical Model and the Social Model is essential for people leaders and peers of neurodivergent employees. The Social Model promotes inclusivity, but the Medical Model can provide necessary care and support. It’s about striking a balance and tailoring approaches to the specific needs of each employee. This approach acknowledges that disability is not a one-size-fits-all concept.


In an inclusive workplace, understanding the Medical Model and the Social Model of disability is crucial. Embracing the varying perspectives within the neurodivergent community and recognising the need for a blend of both models for higher support needs individuals can lead to a more accommodating and equitable workplace. As a neurodiversity ally your appreciation of these differences can make a significant impact on creating an environment where all employees can thrive.