Definition of a Disability

Disability is one of the protected characteristics of the Equality Act (2010).  The definition of a disability is stated within Section 6 of the Equality Act (2010) as:

A person has a disability if —

(a) the person has a physical or mental impairment, and

(b) the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities


Which impairments are covered in the Act as a disability?

Please refer to the legal UK Government guidance on disability definition, download: ODI Eq Act Disability Guidance (PDF, 828 KB)

A disability can arise from a wide range of impairments which can be:

  • sensory impairments, such as those affecting sight or hearing;
  • impairments with fluctuating or recurring effects such as rheumatoid arthritis, myalgic encephalitis (ME), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, depression and epilepsy;
  • progressive, such as motor neurone disease, muscular dystrophy, and forms of dementia;
  • auto-immune conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE);
  • organ specific, including respiratory conditions, such as asthma, and cardiovascular diseases, including thrombosis, stroke and heart disease;
  • developmental, such as autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), dyslexia and dyspraxia;
  • learning disabilities;
  • mental health conditions with symptoms such as anxiety, low mood, panic attacks, phobias, or unshared perceptions; eating disorders; bipolar affective disorders; obsessive compulsive disorders; personality disorders; post traumatic stress disorder, and some self-harming behaviour;
  • mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia;
  • produced by injury to the body, including to the brain.

Note that people diagnosed with HIV infection, cancer or multiple sclerosis, automatically meet the disability definition. 

What is the difference between the Equality Act and the DDA?

A full list of changes are provided on webpage: EA and DDA

What is the meaning of ‘long-term effects’? 

Schedule 1, Paragraph 2 of the Act states that, for the purpose of deciding whether a person is disabled, a long-term effect of an impairment is one: 

  • which has lasted at least 12 months; or
  • where the total period for which it lasts, from the time of the first onset, is likely to be at least 12 months; or
  • which is likely to last for the rest of the life of the person affected

Special provisions apply when determining whether the effects of an impairment that has fluctuating or recurring effects are long-term. 

What is the meaning of ‘substantial adverse effect’? 

Section 212 of the Act states the requirement that an adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities should be a substantial one reflects the general understanding of disability as a limitation going beyond the normal differences in ability which may exist among people. 

A substantial effect is one that is more than a minor or trivial effect.

What are the examples of relating conditions?

Government A-Z list of conditions that relate to a disability: Conditions Note: only some conditions are covered as a disability under the Equality Act.

What duty is there to provide 'reasonable adjustment' in the workplace?

The duty contains three requirements that apply in situations where a disabled person would otherwise be placed at a substantial disadvantage compared with people who are not disabled:

  1. The first requirement involves changing the way things are done (equality law talks about where the disabled job worker is put at a substantial disadvantage by a provision, criterion or practice of their employer).
  2. The second requirement involves making changes to overcome barriers created by the physical features of a workplace.
  3. The third requirement involves providing extra equipment (which equality law calls an auxiliary aid) or getting someone to do something to assist you (which equality law calls an auxiliary service).

What is the meaning of ‘normal day-to-day activities’?

The Act does not define what is to be regarded as a ‘normal day-to-day activity’ as it is not possible to provide an exhaustive list of day-to-day activities. 

However examples of when it would, and would not, be reasonable to regard an impairment as having a substantial adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, are provided on webpages:

Which conditions are excluded as a definition of a disability in the Act?

Legal Government guidance states the following are not impairments:

  • addiction to, or dependency on, alcohol, nicotine, or any other substance (other than in consequence of the substance being medically prescribed) 
    • Note: someone who has an addiction is only covered in having a disability if the addiction results in an impairment e.g. addicted to alcohol results in depression or liver damage.
  • the condition known as seasonal allergic rhinitis (e.g. hayfever), except where it aggravates the effect of another condition
  • tendency to set fires
  • tendency to steal
  • tendency to physical or sexual abuse of other persons
  • exhibitionism
  • voyeurism