The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as follows: “A person has a disability if they have 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 that the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for at least 12 months or for the rest of the affected person’s life. Substantial means more than minor or trivial.
Cancer, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, and some sight conditions are deemed disabilities under the Act from the point of diagnosis. Other progressive conditions are covered by the Act from the moment the condition results in an impairment which has some effect on ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, even though not a substantial effect, if that impairment might well have a substantial adverse effect on such ability in the future.
Physical impairments include sensory impairments, such as those affecting sight or hearing, and the term ‘mental impairment’ is intended to cover a wide range of impairments relating to mental functioning, including what are often known as learning disabilities.
There is no need for a person to establish a medically diagnosed cause for their impairment. More importantly, consideration should be given to the effect of the impairment, not the cause. Furthermore, those who have recovered from a disability may continue to be protected by the provisions of the Equality Act.
Full definitions are set out in Appendix 1 of the Equality and Human Rights commission statutory code of practice.
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