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Office of the President and Provost (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion)

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Defining Disability

A disabled person is defined in the Equality Act 2010 as someone with "A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities." Long-term means likely to last for at least 12 months.

Normal day-to-day activities include mobility, manual dexterity, physical co-ordination, continence, ability to lift, carry and move everyday objects, speech, hearing, eyesight, memory or ability to concentrate, learn or understand, and perception of risk or physical danger.

Substantial means more than minor or trivial e.g. it takes much longer that it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed.

Long term means is likely to last for 12 months or more.  Any terminal condition is included regardless of timeframes involved.

Progressive conditions such as HIV/AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis are covered from the point of diagnosis, regardless of the symptoms.

Conditions that are intermittent, or that fluctuate in their effects will entitle the person to protection under the Equality Act at all times (provided the condition is likely to recur), even at a particular point in time the condition is in remission.

Unlike other protected characteristics, the Equality Act 2010 place an obligation on employers to take active steps to reduce discrimination of workers with a disability, impairment, mental or physical health condition and make reasonable adjustments so they can make the best contribution at work.


The law says you must make reasonable adjustments for disabled people who are having, or will have, problems doing the job. Although some people will tell you that they have a disability many will not because:

  • They don’t think of themselves as disabled, e.g. someone with diabetes.
  • They don’t think they need any adjustments.
  • Although they are unwell they don’t yet know why.
  • They are worried about how you or the organisation might react and that they will either not get the job or lose their job.
  • They fear harassment or bullying.

You must make reasonable adjustments for people you know or think might be disabled if they are having problems doing their work because of their disability.

Managers should be looking out for signs that someone might have a disability. Bear in mind that these signs might be linked to a disability that the person may or may not know about as yet.

Things that may be relevant include:

  • Low attendance levels or a reduction in attendance.
  • Drops in performance at work.
  • Changes in behaviour at work e.g. they are tearful; aggressive; irritable; withdrawn or forgetful.
  • They are persistently late or miss deadlines.
  • They appear to be experiencing pain or discomfort.

Don’t pass time trying to work out if someone meets the legal definition of disability. If a member of your team is having problems at work, talk to them, try to find out what would help and make any changes you reasonably can to help them do their job.