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The Road to Empowerment: A Historical Perspective on the Medicalization of Disability

Author: JEANNE HAYES and ELIZABETH “LISA” M. HANNOLD
Published in JHHSA, Vol. 30 No. 3

The aims of this paper are to analyze the role of medical and
health professions in creating and establishing the disability category.
We also explore how the diagnosis, measurement, and treatment of
disability have contributed to stigmatization and promoted social,
political and economic inequality. Theories from a variety of
disciplines are used to examine the ways that medicine and the health-
related professions have contributed to the oppression of people with
disabilities, including the maintenance of a ‘medical/knowledge power
differential,’ reinforcement of the ‘sick role,’ and objectification of
people with disabilities. We also explore opportunities for
empowerment versus ‘sick role’ status. The medical and health
professions are uniquely positioned to promote the empowerment of
people with disabilities as active partners in their own health care.
Replacing the biomedical model of disability with a socio-political
model that prioritizes disease/health care management, wellness and
prevention of further disability as opposed to treatments aimed at
curing disability could facilitate the empowerment process.

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