The Social Construction of Normality and Its Implications for Disability


In contemporary society, the concept of "normality" is a multifaceted and socially constructed phenomenon that significantly influences the lived experiences of individuals with disabilities. This essay delves into the intricate relationship between the social construction of normality and disability, shedding light on how societal norms and perceptions can profoundly impact the life opportunities and choices available to disabled individuals. We will begin by defining normality and examining the concept of social construction, with a specific focus on disabled children. Subsequently, this essay will explore theoretical perspectives, such as Mead and Cooley's labelling theory, the self-fulfilling prophecy, and the medical and social models of disability.

Additionally, we will investigate the media's role in shaping societal norms and perceptions of disability. Ultimately, this essay argues that societal constructs of normality often marginalize and disadvantage disabled individuals, highlighting the urgent need for social change and inclusion.

Defining Normality and Social Construction

Normality is a complex and ever-evolving concept that is deeply ingrained in society's fabric.

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To comprehend its significance, one must recognize that normality is not an objective truth but a socially constructed idea. It is the lens through which societies perceive and evaluate the behavior, attributes, and characteristics of individuals.

Sociologists contend that most facets of human behavior are socially constructed (Bilton et al., 2002). This assertion implies that our actions, thoughts, and emotions are defined by the social processes we encounter. During our formative years and throughout adulthood, we absorb and internalize societal norms, values, and expectations, thereby shaping our perception of normality.

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The Role of Language and Labels

Language is an immensely powerful tool in the construction of social realities. It not only facilitates communication but also shapes our understanding of the world. Historically, words used to describe individuals with disabilities have often been pejorative, reflecting the prevailing negative attitudes towards them. Terms like "spastic," "dunce," "moron," "cripple," "handicapped," and "lame" were commonly employed, perpetuating stigmatization (Collins gem English pocket dictionary, 1987).

Language, however, evolves over time, and so do societal perceptions. The shift away from derogatory terms is indicative of changing attitudes. Nevertheless, the power of words persists in constructing our perceptions of disability. A shift from the "medical model" to the "social model" of disability has brought about a transformation in how disability is viewed, emphasizing societal barriers rather than individual impairments (Barnes et al., 1999).

The Medical Model vs. The Social Model

The "medical model" perceives disabled individuals as problems that need to be fixed or adapted to fit into the existing societal framework. This perspective often leads to dependency and reinforces stereotypes of pity and patronization, focusing on impairment rather than the individual's needs.

In contrast, the "social model" of disability posits that it is societal barriers, not the impairments themselves, that disable people. Disability is defined in diverse ways under this model. It underscores that the discrimination faced by disabled individuals is primarily socially constructed and has little to do with their impairments. Fear, ignorance, and prejudice give rise to barriers and discriminatory practices that hinder their full participation in society.

Labelling Theory and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The concept of labelling theory, as advanced by Mead and Cooley, delves into the consequences of applying labels to individuals. It posits that once labeled, individuals may internalize and act in accordance with these labels, ultimately fulfilling the expectations associated with them. This theory has significant implications for disabled children, especially in educational settings.

For instance, if a child with learning difficulties is consistently branded as "temperamental" or "hard to control," they may start to conform to these labels, leading to adverse consequences in the classroom. Schools often resort to labeling children to identify their difficulties, which can lead to their placement in special education classes.

The Media's Influence on Perceptions of Disability

The media plays an influential role in shaping societal perceptions. In the past, media depictions of disability often aimed to evoke pity, portraying disabled individuals as helpless and lost. These representations aligned with the "tragedy model" of disability, eliciting feelings of blame and sympathy.

However, disabled individuals, through movements like the Disability Rights Movement, have challenged these portrayals. Today, media increasingly showcases disabled children engaging in various activities, such as sports, and living fulfilling lives. These changing narratives challenge societal constructions of disability, promoting a more inclusive outlook.

The Implications for Inclusive Education

Inclusive education is a critical aspect of dismantling the barriers faced by disabled individuals. The concept of inclusion emphasizes that all children, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, have the right to access a quality education within mainstream settings. This approach fosters understanding, acceptance, and empowerment.

Legislation, such as the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, has laid the foundation for promoting equality and inclusion in educational institutions. Under this act, public bodies, including educational institutions, are required to eliminate discrimination, provide equal opportunities, and promote positive attitudes towards disabled people.

Furthermore, research in the field of inclusive education has shown that inclusive schools benefit all students. When disabled and non-disabled students learn together, it creates an environment of diversity, where different perspectives and abilities are valued. This not only enhances the educational experience but also prepares students for a more inclusive society.


The social construction of normality is a pivotal aspect of our society, profoundly affecting the experiences and opportunities of disabled individuals. As this essay has highlighted, societal constructs of normality, language, labels, and media representations can either perpetuate discrimination and exclusion or foster inclusion and empowerment.

It is imperative that we recognize the socially constructed nature of normality and work towards dismantling the barriers that restrict disabled individuals from realizing their full potential. Legal provisions, like the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, provide a framework for promoting equality and inclusion. However, true progress requires a shift in societal attitudes, as encapsulated by the "social model" of disability.

Education plays a central role in challenging discrimination against disabled people. Inclusive education, where disabled and non-disabled children learn together, fosters understanding, acceptance, and empowerment. To achieve this vision, it is crucial to bridge the gap between the "medical" and "social" models of disability.

In conclusion, as we collectively endeavor to redefine normality, we must strive for a society that celebrates diversity, dismantles discriminatory practices, and ensures that disabled individuals have the same opportunities and choices as their non-disabled peers. The path to true inclusion begins with the transformation of societal attitudes and a commitment to valuing every individual, regardless of their abilities or differences.

Updated: Nov 08, 2023
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The Social Construction of Normality and Its Implications for Disability. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

The Social Construction of Normality and Its Implications for Disability essay
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