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What is a disability?

Defining and classing what a disability is.

What is classed as a disability?

The legal definition of a disability is ‘‘a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect upon a person's ability to carry out day-to-day activities’’. This includes for example:

  • Sensory impairments (such as those affecting sight & hearing)
  • Physical impairments (e.g., wheelchair users or someone with severe back pain)
  • Specific Learning Difficulty such as dyslexia or dyspraxia
  • Mental health difficulty, such as depression, Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Medical conditions such as epilepsy or diabetes
  • Cancer, HIV infection and Multiple Sclerosis – recognised from the point of diagnosis.
  • Other progressive medical conditions
  • Forms of Autism (e.g., Aspergers Syndrome)
  • Conditions which are characterised by several cumulative effects such as pain or fatigue (e.g., ME)
  • Muscular Skeletal conditions, such as RSI, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Stammer
  • Severe facial disfigurements
  • A history of disability

Note this is not a comprehensive list.


A person's condition must be 'long term' which means it must be expected to last at least 12 months or for the rest of a person’s life. Therefore, for the purpose of the Act someone who breaks an arm will not be disabled if the injury is likely to heal within a year.

Fluctuating conditions such as ME or epilepsy or certain mental health difficulties that have a substantial adverse effect for short periods but are likely to reoccur are recognised as disabilities.

In law to determine whether a person has a disability, their condition is assessed through the impact it would have on their wellbeing and day-to-day life without the use of any medication, therapeutic intervention, coping strategies or assistive aids or technology.

This means for example, someone with insulin-controlled diabetes, epilepsy or depression may be protected by the Act - even the effectiveness of their treatment means that their condition has little or no impact on their day-to-day lives.

The only condition for which this is not the case is visual impairment where the impact of the impairment on an individual is assessed with the use of their glasses or contact lenses.

Please see below for a link to the UK goverment website which goes into further detail about defining a disability.

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