What is a Disability?

Disability is a difficult term to define as there is no singular definition. The definition is dependent on the context in which disability is being considered. Generally, it is important to remember that the legislative definition of disability is broad and may include circumstances you were not aware were considered as disability.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) defines disability as:

  • total or partial loss of the person’s bodily or mental functions
  • total or partial loss of a part of the body
  • the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness
  • the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the person’s body
  • a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction
  • a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment, or that results in disturbed behaviour

And includes disability that:

  • presently exists
  • previously existed but no longer exists
  • may exist in the future
  • is imputed to a person (meaning it is thought or implied that the person has disability but does not).

There are many different kinds of disability and they can result from accidents, illness or genetic disorders. A disability may affect mobility, ability to learn things, or ability to communicate easily, and some people may have more than one. A disability may be visible or hidden, may be permanent or temporary and may have minimal or substantial impact on a person’s abilities.

Types of disability

17.7% of the Australian population live with disability. Disability can be visible or non-visible, with a higher prevalence of non-visible disability in Australia. Disability can be inherited or acquired (due to illness or injury) and can be temporary or permanent.

The breadth of impairments and medical conditions covered by the DDA are set out below:

  • Physical - affects a person's mobility or dexterity
  • Intellectual - affects a person's abilities to learn
  • Mental Illness - affects a person's thinking processes
  • Sensory - affects a person's ability to hear or see
  • Neurological – affects the person’s brain and central nervous system
  • Learning disability
  • Physical disfigurement
  • Immunological - the presence of organisms causing disease in the body

To be deemed a disability, the impairment or condition must impact daily activities, communication and/or mobility, and has lasted or is likely to last 6 months or more.

People with disability are part of every section of our community: men, women and children; employers and employees; students and teachers; indigenous and non-indigenous; customers; and citizens. No two people with the same disability experience their disability in the same way.

Source: What is a Disability? (opens in a new window)