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J Adv Nurs. 2008 May;62(4):428-37. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04623.x. Epub 2008 Mar 19.

Representations of disability in nursing and healthcare literature: an integrative review.

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Laurentian University School of Nursing Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.



This paper is a report of an integrative review to explore the way in which disability has been considered in the multidisciplinary health and nursing literature.


In the multidisciplinary health and nursing literature, two ways are presented in which disability can be understood: the traditional, functional perspective and a more contemporary, social perspective.


Computerized databases of the CINAHL, Proquest Nursing and Allied Health Sources, EBSCO and Evidence Based Medicine Reviews Multifile and Cochrane databases were conducted for papers published in English in the period 1963-2007 using the keywords 'models of disability', 'disability and nursing research' and 'theories of disability'.


An integrative review was performed and, of the 11,578 papers identified, 65 were included.


The concept of functional disability refers to an individual who is physically 'disabled' and unable to perform expected roles. The concepts of social stigmatization and normalcy are associated with functional disability. In contrast, social disability concerns functional limitations within an individual's experience of living with disability, examining how socially constructed barriers actually 'disable' people. Conventionally, disability research has been conducted from an etic perspective. Researchers contend that a shift towards an understanding from the emic perspective is needed for disability research to be emancipatory.


Adoption of a social perspective is necessary to inform an understanding of disability that addresses stigmatization and oppression. Research-informed nursing practice, complemented by supportive health and social policies, could transform the experience of living with disability.

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