Public health research purports to provide the evidence base for policies, programmes and interventions to improve the health of a population. However, there is increasing awareness that the experiences of disabled people have played little part in informing this evidence base. This paper discusses one aspect of a study commissioned by England’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to review the implications for public health of theories and models of disability. This part of the study focused on the development of a tool or decision aid to promote ethical inclusion of disabled people in public health randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and evaluative research. The tool was introduced at four regional ‘deliberating panels’ involving politically and socially active disabled people. In addition, we held a panel with public health professionals. The deliberation panels debated how the focus of public health was narrowing, why disability was excluded and positive and negative issues with using rights to guide research and evaluative practice. Politically active disabled people argued for a social model of human rights to guide any rights based tools or decision aids in public health and disability research.