Moving away from the “medical model”: The development and revision of the world health organization’s classification of disability

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Recently, there has been a prominent call in the history of medicine for greater engagement with disability perspectives. In this article, I suggest that critiques of the so-called medical model have been an important vehicle by which alternative narratives of disability entered the clinical arena. Historians of medicine have rarely engaged with the medical model beyond descriptive accounts of it. I argue that to more adequately address disability perspectives, historians of medicine must better historicize the medical model concept and critique, which has been drawn upon by physicians, activists, and others to advance particular perspectives on disability. My present contribution describes two distinct formulations of critique that originated in differing interest groups and characterized the medical model alternatively as insufficient and oppressive. I examine the World Health Organization’s efforts to incorporate these distinctive medical model critiques during the development and revision of its International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities, and Handicaps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-269
Number of pages29
JournalBulletin of the History of Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2019


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Nursing(all)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • History

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