Disability is a complex, scalar, multi-dimensional phenomenon. The social exclusion and devaluation of disabled people is widespread and persistent, both in India and worldwide. Developing more adequate understandings of the disability phenomenon and improving the participation and quality of life of disabled people are linked and urgent concerns. Prevailing approaches to disability have been flawed because they tend to individualize disability, and to neglect the social and environmental contexts which create additional burdens for disabled people, or alternatively facilitate their participation. These problems are characteristic of both mainstream medical ethics seeing impairment as a problem to be avoided and medical sociology dominated by the chronic illness approach. It is now a worldwide discipline, with particular strengths in Britain, USA, Canada and the Nordic countries, but also notable contributions from Australia, France and Germany.