Quick Bite: The Definition of Disability in s6 of the Equality Act 2010


The Equality Act 2010 (referred to as ‘the Act’) aims to prevent discrimination and promote equal opportunities for all, irrespective of certain protected characteristics, including disability. In this context, disability is defined as the presence of a physical or mental impairment that significantly and enduringly hinders an individual’s capacity to engage in typical day-to-day activities.


Let’s delve deeper into the particulars:


  1. Physical or Mental Impairment: To qualify as having a disability under the Equality Act 2010, an individual must possess a physical or mental condition affecting their physical well-being or mental state. This encompasses conditions such as physical disabilities (e.g., an inability to walk unaided) or so called ‘mental disorders’ (like severe depression, autism, or anxiety).
  2. Substantial Effect: The impairment should exert a substantial influence on an individual’s life. It implies genuine difficulties in performing routine tasks that most individuals execute without much difficulty. For instance, a severe back injury preventing someone from lifting even light objects qualifies as a substantial effect.
  3. Long-term: The Act specifies that the disability’s impact should be long-lasting, expected to persist or has persisted for at least a year or more. It signifies more than a transient issue, acknowledging that disabilities can endure over a significant period or for a person’s lifetime.
  4. Day-to-Day Activities: The disability should significantly hinder a person’s capacity to carry out regular, everyday activities. These encompass tasks such as dressing, meal preparation, using public transport, how education is arranged or employment. If the ‘impairment’ makes these activities significantly more difficult, it is likely to be categorised as a disability under the Act.


For an individual to receive the protections identified in the Act, they must meet the definition of disability it contains. A mere diagnostic label is insufficient, except in the case of “deemed disabilities.” These are conditions recognised by the Equality Act 2010 as disabilities, even if they do not fully meet the specific criteria detailed above. Examples of deemed disabilities include cancer, HIV, and multiple sclerosis. The Act acknowledges that these conditions can substantially impact an individual’s life, even if they do not consistently lead to substantial and long-term effects. It’s worth noting that autism is not considered a deemed disability for the Act’s purposes; this is often that surprises many people. Having said that, autistic people certainly can satisfy the definition, it’s just that they may have to prove that they do so if they want to be protected by the statute.


In summary, the Equality Act 2010 defines disability as a physical or mental condition that significantly and enduringly impedes an individual’s ability to perform normal day-to-day activities. Moreover, specific conditions like cancer and HIV are regarded as disabilities under the Act, even if they do not entirely fulfil the specific criteria. This ensures protection against discrimination for individuals with these conditions as well.

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