Definitions of Disability

There are many definitions of disability.

The Social Model of Disability

We encourage the use of the social model as a way of understanding disability. It says that disability is created by barriers in society.

The barriers generally fall into 3 categories:

  • the environment – including inaccessible buildings and services
  • people’s attitudes – stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice
  • organisations – inflexible policies, practices and procedures

The issue is the ‘disabling environment’ and the negative attitudes towards disability.  Disability is caused by an unaccommodating environment, negative attitudes and organisational structures:

  • Inaccessible transport
  • Poorly designed buildings
  • Segregated services
  • Stereotyping
  • Lack of understanding
  • Too few sign language interpreters

For more information please use this link to visit the government website


Definition of Disability under the Equality Act 2010

You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

What ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ mean

  • ‘substantial’ is more than minor or trivial - eg it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed
  • ‘long-term’ means 12 months or more - eg a breathing condition that develops as a result of a lung infection

There are special rules about recurring or fluctuating conditions, for example, arthritis. 

For more information please use this link to visit the goverment website and download a cpoy of the Equality Act Guidance

The Medical Model of Disability

The standard way of thinking about disability in the past was the so-called Medical Model.

The issue is the individual with a condition/impairment

Disability is caused by conditions/impairments which people have e.g.

  • Is housebound
  • Needs help to do things
  • Confined to a wheelchair
  • Can’t walk
  • Requires medication
  • Depends on a hearing aid
  • Has difficulty understanding