Disability Definition

Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010

You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

What ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ mean

  • ‘substantial’ is more than minor or trivial - e.g. it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed
  • ‘long-term’ means 12 months or more - e.g. a breathing condition that develops as a result of a lung infection

Progressive conditions

A progressive condition is a condition that gets worse over time. People with progressive conditions can be classed as disabled. However, you automatically meet the disability definition under the Equality Act 2010 from the day you’re diagnosed with HIV infection, cancer or multiple sclerosis.

What isn’t counted as a disability

Some conditions aren’t covered by the disability definition. These include addiction to non–prescribed drugs or alcohol.

Defining disability

The way we (and others) regard disability can have a fundamental effect on what we are prepared to do, and why, in overcoming the difficulties that disabled people face on a day-to-day basis.

It can also have a determining influence on our language when we talk about disability, impairment etc.

Several definitions of disability

There are several 'definitions' of disability that we can use. The DDA definition is the perhaps the most obvious which defines disability as:- 'a physical or mental impairment that has a long-term, substantial, adverse effect on the ability to perform day-to-day activities.' But this is by no means the only definition.

The two most common ways of looking at disability are usually referred to as the 'medical' and 'social' models.

Medical model

Under the medical model, disability is defined with reference to what is 'wrong' with the person: how they are thought to differ from the 'norm' that is accepted by society as a whole. 'Disability' and 'impairment' become interchangeable and are used to describe the 'medical' condition that someone is said to have.

Social model

The social model of disability is different - it does distinguish between impairment and disability.

Impairment in this context is described as a characteristic or long term attribute of someone.

This may or may not result from an injury or disease and which may affect that person's appearance or the functioning of their mind or body and which may cause pain or fatigue and may affect communication and/or reduce consciousness.

The social model locates the blame for the barriers facing people with impairments clearly with those who erect the barriers.

The most common barriers are:

  • prejudice and stereotyping
  • inflexible organisational procedures and practices
  • inaccessible information; inaccessible buildings
  • Inaccessible transport systems.