Definition of Disability

What Do We Mean By Disability?

Section 6(1) of the Equality Act says that a person has a disability for the purposes of the Act if he or she has a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This definition is clarified further in Schedule 1 of the Act. In particular, “long-term” means the effect of the impairment has lasted, or is likely to last, for 12 months (or for the rest of the life of the person affected). 

“Day to day activities”  is not defined but the Equality Act Guidance states that “In general, day-to-day activities are things people do on a regular or daily basis”.  It gives the following examples: shopping, reading and writing, having a conversation or using the telephone, watching television, getting washed and dressed, preparing and eating food, carrying out household tasks, walking and travelling by various forms of transport, and taking part in social activities.

Not all impairments are easy to identify. While some conditions are visible, there are many that are not so visible or obvious. It is important to focus on the effect of an impairment and not its cause.  The following conditions, however, are regarded as disabilities in all cases regardless of their effects: cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis.

Areas of Disability

As we have seen, the Equality Act describes how a disability may be defined. It does not set out in detail all disabilities/impairments that would fall within the definition of a disability. Without prejudice to the generality of the definition of disability, we consider that there are six core areas of disability as set out below. Please click on the text to view more details of each area.