Defining disability

The Disability Discrimination Act, (2005) defines disability as ‘A physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities’. This term refers to individual functioning, including physical impairment, sensory impairment, cognitive impairment, intellectual impairment, mental illness, and various types of chronic disease.

However it is important to note that this definition is quite negative and relates specifically to medical aspects of disability. It implies that disabled people are unable to do things or be involved. This is far from the truth as will be demonstrated to you within this website. Regardless of disability you can pretty much do anything depending on society allowing for the differences you may have. For example someone who is in a wheelchair can ski and skydive as long as the equipment is adapted for them to use.

We therefore present you with an alternative definition of disability from The United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council: ‘Disability is the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organisation which takes little or no account of people who have impairments and thus excludes them from the mainstream of social activities’.

Given the above definition, it does not make sense to say ‘people with disabilities’, just as you would not say ‘people with black skin’ or ‘people with female gender’, for example. ‘People with disabilities’ is really used to link people with their medical conditions and implies that the difficulties experienced by disabled people are a result of these impairments.


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