This paper critically reviews medical approaches to the identification and treatment of disability. The medical model locates disability within individuals. By contrast, this paper argues that disability cannot be understood outside its social context. As such, some of the assumptions about normality and difference which underpin traditional approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of disabled people are challenged. If it is accepted that disability is located not solely within the mind or body of an individual, but rather in the relationship between people with particular bodily and intellectual differences and their social environment, then greater focus may be placed on ameliorating disability through changes in social policy, culture and institutional practices.