Analysing the Definition of Disability in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: is it really based on a 'Social Model' approach?


  • Katerina Kazou Leicester Law School



This article challenges the generally accepted view that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006 (CRPD) is based on the ‘social model of disability’. The ‘social model’ understands disability as a social situation, and particularly a form of social oppression imposed on people with impairments, which is caused by social and environmental barriers that exclude them from participating in society and which is entirely distinguished from their individual impairment. The article argues that the definition of disability in the CRPD is closer to the definition provided in WHO’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). The ICF understands disability as the multi-dimensional and interactive experience of a wide range of difficulties in functioning; in particular, these difficulties include impairments, limitations in performing activities and restrictions in participating in life situations, and arise out of the complex interaction between health conditions, personal factors and barriers in the physical and social environment. Associating the CRPD with the ICF rather than the ‘social model’ might have positive implications for its implementation, as it can avoid the criticism faced by the ‘social model’ for its limitations, especially for considering impairment as being entirely irrelevant to the experience of disability, and therefore governments and policy makers might be less sceptical towards the CRPD and more willing to engage with it. At the same time, the valuable insights of the ‘social model’ regarding the disabling effect of social and environmental barriers can be retained, as the ICF recognises this too, but without ignoring the relevance of impairment to the experience of disability or minimising the health needs of persons with disabilities.

Author Biography

Katerina Kazou, Leicester Law School

PhD candidate and University Tutor, Leicester Law School, University of Leicester






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