For many years, the medical model has been the dominant approach to disability. This model locates the "problem" of disability in the body of the individual, rather than in society itself or in the way the deviant body is perceived. The social model challenges this, suggesting that although people have impairments, the extent and nature of the disability they experience will be the result of the degree to which society supports their social, economic and cultural participation.
For example, a person with a vision impairment who uses a cane to aid their mobility will be completely independent if the physical environment is accessible, the teaching practices are inclusive and assistive technology is available. If this is not the case, he or she will be significantly disabled and may require costly personal assistance.
Some disability studies scholars argue for a more interactional and relational understanding, which views disability as the result of the interplay between the individual and contextual factors.