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Definition of Disability

The Equality Act 2010 defines a disabled person as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The definition

For the purposes of the act:

  • Substantial means neither ‘minor’ or ‘trivial’. When assessing whether the effect of the impairment is substantial the time taken by a person with an impairment to carry out a normal day-to-day activity should be considered;
  • Long term means that the effect of the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for at least 12 months (there are special rules covering recurring or fluctuating conditions);
  • Day-to-day activities are taken as things people do on a regular or daily basis e.g. shopping, reading and writing and using the telephone;
  • Certain conditions are not regarded as impairments for the purposes of the Act. These include tendency to steal, addiction to substances, tendency to steal and exhibitionism.

The Act also states that people with HIV infection, cancer or multiple sclerosis are deemed to be disabled. This means that the person is protected by the Act from the point of diagnosis.

People who have had a disability in the past that meets this definition are also covered by the scope of the Act.


The government has published statutory guidance, to help decide whether a person is disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. 'Guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining questions relating to the definition of disability' has been in force since 1 May 2006.