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.

Mental health conditions are clinical disorders such as extreme fears (phobias), schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, depression and anxiety. These conditions can be severe and long-lasting and may have a significant impact on a person’s ability to lead a typical lifestyle. The symptoms may occur intermittently or only in certain circumstances. They may also be managed with long-term medication or therapy.

Mencap says a learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability causing difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life.

Hearing Loss can be described as a full or partial loss of the ability to detect or discriminate sounds around us. Common terms used include hard of hearing and deafness. The correct use of these words is crucial as both signify different ends of the scale of a hearing impairment.

Visual impairments cover a range of disability including colour blindness, moderate sight loss and total blindness.

Physical and Mobility Impairment can effect movement of the upper or lower extremities and may result from a variety of conditions, including brain trauma, cerebral palsy, arthritis,  limb loss, paralysis, motor neurone disease and many others.  The impact will vary by individual and may affect mobility, reach, grip, fine motor tasks, and motor control. Many motor impairments are invisible with only 8% of disabled people in the UK using a wheelchair.

There are a wide range of disabilities/impairments covered by the Equality Act; you can find more examples on the Equality and Human Rights Commission site.