Ageing and Society

Later life and the social model of disability: a comfortable partnership?

a1 Centre for Housing Policy, University of York, York, UK.


There has been very limited debate about the usefulness of links between later life and disability studies. The paper reviews the arguments for and against a closer association. The social model of disability makes crucial the separation of disability from impairment and shows that it is society that does the disabling. This is never so clear as in the case of housing policies for older people, the focus of this article. Older people suffer discrimination and have to submit to a medical model of later life if they receive health or social care services. The argument against an association between later life studies and disability studies is that later life is an immensely diverse experience, much of it nothing to do with disability. Moreover, some older people reject the negative connotation when later life is equated with disability. The paper argues, however, for a specific application of the social model of disability to the situation of older people with impairments who receive services. It also asserts that the social model of disability can be accommodated in critical gerontology and, in particular, in a post-modern perspective. The paper concludes with examples of the value of the social model of disability at both the policy and political levels.

(Accepted June 12 2002)

Key Words: social model of disability; critical gerontology; post-modernism; housing and disability; housing policy; older people's social movements.

c1 Address for correspondence: Christine Oldman, Centre for Housing Policy, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, UK e-mail: