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According to the classic medical notion of disability, disability is the result of a physical condition, is intrinsic to the individual (it is part of that individual’s own body), may reduce the individual's quality of life and causes clear disadvantages. Furthermore, a compassionate or just society will put resources into trying to cure disabilities medically or to improve functioning, and the medical profession has a major responsibility and potential for helping disabled people.

The medical model of disability is often cited by disabled people's civil rights groups when evaluating the costs and benefits of invasive or traumatic medical procedures, prosthetics, "cures", and medical tests such as genetic screening or preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Often, a medical model of disability is used to justify large investment in these procedures, technologies and research, when adaptation of the disabled person's environment would be cheaper and more attainable. Some disabled rights groups see the medical model of disability as a civil rights issue, and criticise charitable or medical initiatives that use it in their portrayal of disabled people because it promotes a negative, disempowered image of people with disabilities, rather than casting disability as a political, social and environmental problem.

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