Defining disability

No one disability is the same. Not all disabilities are physical nor visible. And the lived experience for each individual with a disability is unique.

There are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, however disability is often lacking from the diversity and inclusion conversation – perhaps owing to the challenge of defining disability. It is also shrouded in misconceptions, especially regarding disability and the workplace, and as such disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people.

In the first of a three-part blog series exploring disability, I will provide an overview of the diversity of the disabled experience.

Disability and The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.”

“Substantial” means the disability significantly affects a person’s ability to carry out routine daily tasks like washing and dressing. This also extends to the impact on a person’s ability to complete day-to-day activities at work such as concentration and retaining information, following instructions, mobility and interacting with colleagues.

“Long-term” means the effects of the condition affect (or are likely to affect) the person for 12 months or more.

What conditions are identified as a disability?

It is not necessary to categorise conditions as either physical or mental disability as often the two are intrinsically linked. For example, people with physical conditions that cause chronic pain are also likely to be psychologically impacted.

However, as an overview here is a (by no means exhaustive) list of conditions that fall under the Equality Act’s definition:

  • Fluctuating or recurring conditions – such as arthritis, ME, chronic fatigue syndrome, epilepsy
  • Progressive conditions – such as motor neurone disease, muscular dystrophy, dementia
  • Sensory conditions – such as blindness or conditions affecting sight, deafness or conditions affect hearing
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Conditions that affect the organs – such as heart disease, asthma
  • Conditions as a result of injury to the body or brain
  • Neurodiverse conditions – such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette syndrome
  • Mental health conditions – such as depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress

It is important to note that many people with these conditions may not be aware that they are considered nor consider themselves as disabled.

There are also some conditions – such as cancer, multiple schlorisis, HIV – where the person is identified as having a disability from the moment they are diagnosed. Similarly, those who are no longer impacted by a condition, but who met the criteria of a disabled person previously (for example, those in remission from a chronic condition), are still protected by the Equality Act.

Making the workplace more inclusive

Scope UK’s Disability Perception Gap report highlighted that a third of people see disabled people as being less productive than non-disabled people. There is also a misconception that disabled people demand a greater investment of time from leaders, they take more time off sick and that accommodating reasonable adjustments is expensive.

As a result of these misconceptions and intrinsic biases, the disability employment gap persists. But, the truth is there are endless benefits of disability inclusion for organisations, for individuals, for services, for the economy and for society. Plus, many reasonable adjustments are inexpensive, funded via the Access to Work grants or free.

What is needed is a change in mindset. Indeed, Scope’s report not only suggests that “tackling misconceptions is crucial to getting more disabled people into work,” but by “enabling more disabled people to get into and stay in work will help more non-disabled people to perceive disabled people’s experiences more accurately”.


At Tell Jane, we too strive to adjust attitudes to encourage diversity inclusion in the workplace. Subsequent blogs from this series will delve deeper into disability and the workplace, but in the meantime, if you would like to discover more about disability inclusion for your organisation, contact me directly by emailing

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