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Equality Act 2010

Definition of Disability:



Main elements of the definition of disability


A1. The Act defines a disabled person as a person with a disability. 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 (S6(1)).


A2. This means that, in general:

  • the person must have an impairment that is either physical or mental (see paragraphs A3 to A8);
  • the impairment must have adverse effects which are substantial (see Section B);
  • the substantial adverse effects must be long-term (see Section C); and
  • the long-term substantial adverse effects must be effects on normal day-to-day activities (see Section D). This definition is subject to the provisions in Schedule 1 (Sch1). All of the factors above must be considered when determining whether a person is disabled. Equality Act 2010 Guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining questions relating to the definition of disability 8 Meaning of ‘impairment’

A3. The definition requires that the effects which a person may experience must arise from a physical or mental impairment. The term mental or physical impairment should be given its ordinary meaning. It is not necessary for the cause of the impairment to be established, nor does the impairment have to be the result of an illness. In many cases, there will be no dispute whether a person has an impairment. Any disagreement is more likely to be about whether the effects of the impairment are sufficient to fall within the definition and in particular whether they are long-term. Even so, it may sometimes be necessary to decide whether a person has an impairment so as to be able to deal with the issues about its effects.


A4. Whether a person is disabled for the purposes of the Act is generally determined by reference to the effect that an impairment has on that person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. An exception to this is a person with severe disfigurement (see paragraph B24). It is not possible to provide an exhaustive list of conditions that qualify as impairments for the purposes of the Act. Any attempt to do so would inevitably become out of date as medical knowledge advanced.


A5. 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;


Equality Act 2010 Guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining questions relating to the definition of disability 9


• 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.


A6. It may not always be possible, nor is it necessary, to categorise a condition as either a physical or a mental impairment. The underlying cause of the impairment may be hard to establish. There may be adverse effects which are both physical and mental in nature. Furthermore, effects of a mainly physical nature may stem from an underlying mental impairment, and vice versa. A7. It is not necessary to consider how an impairment