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Disability and narrative: new directions for medicine and the medical humanities
  1. Rebecca Garden
  1. Bioethics & Humanities, Upstate Medical University, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rebecca Garden, Bioethics & Humanities, Upstate Medical University, 618 Irving Ave, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA; gardenr{at}


People with disabilities are a large minority that disproportionately seeks medical care. However, disability is relatively neglected in medical education and practice, and disabled people experience troubling differences and even disparities in healthcare. Practitioners can help improve healthcare for disabled people through disability studies, a multi-disciplinary field of enquiry that draws on the experiences and perspectives of people with disabilities to address discrimination. This article outlines a disability studies perspective on healthcare, specifically the rejection of the medicalisation of disability and difference in favour of an understanding of disability that focuses on social factors that disable, such as stigmatisation and a lack of accommodation. The ‘social model’ of disability can be expanded to chronic illness and to the broader work of the medial humanities. The author argues that narrative, particularly first-person accounts, provide a critical resource by representing the point of view of people with disabilities and by offering a means of examining the social context and social determinants of disability. The author examines specific conventions of narrative, the dominant plotlines such as the triumph over adversity, that predetermine experiences of disability and illness. Through disability studies and critical examinations of narrative informed by disability studies, practitioners can provide better care for patients with disabilities and work as allies towards more equitable relations in the clinic.

  • Disabled persons
  • narrative
  • empathy
  • literature
  • autobiography
  • literary theory
  • literature and medicine
  • narrative medicine
  • patient narratives
  • disability

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  • Many thanks to Michael A Schwartz and Allan Peterkin for their insightful comments on this essay.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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