What is Disability?
When we hear people talking about disability you may immediately think of a physical disability or someone in a wheelchair, it seems fair, as that’s the symbol of the disabled, and also one of the most visible, obvious disabilities, However only a fraction of disabled people actually use a wheelchair!
There are a huge range of different disabilities, mirroring society in their vastness and individualism.
So while we have an idea of disability, our understanding of it can be hampered by myths or stereotypes. Disabilities can be physical, mental, or emotional, or be a combination of any of them. People can have more than one disability with different needs for each and don’t fit into one ‘neat’ box or category.
How do you actually define disability is in 21st century Britain? The great authority on words, the Oxford English dictionary says disability is:
1) A physical or mental condition that limits a persons movements, senses, or activities: children with severe physical disabilities: differing types of disability
2) A disadvantage or handicap, especially one imposed or recognized by the law: the plaintiff was under a disability
Definition one is the more helpful, as handicap is often seen as an outdated term. But its not unfair to say disabilities are difficult to define because our understanding of them keeps changing.
The law can provide a little more illumination for us, as the English legal system defines disability as
“A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day to day activities”
What does that mean?
To have a disability and have it recognised and protected by law it has to have at least one of the following:
- Something your body struggles to, or can’t do. e.g. walking, sight, hearing etc
- Chronic illnesses such as Diabetes, Cancer, Osteoporosis, MS, ME, Fybromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Alsoincluded would be progressive conditions such as Muscular Dystrophy
and Motor Neurone Disease
- Respiratory conditions such as Asthma, and Cardiovascular diseases, including Thrombosis, Stroke and Heart Disease.
- Severe Disfigurement of the face or body.
Learning difficulties and disabilities:
- This can including learning disabilities like Autism, Aspergers, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia because these make it difficult for the brain to process information or develop in certain areas
- It can include mental health issues – so anything from Depression, to OCD, to Schizophrenia, to eating disorders, anything that affects your mind/thought processes in a negative and/or harmful way to ourselves or others fits in here
When learning about disability and the law you may well hear some words being used like the ones below:
- This is something that either weakens, damages, harms or diminishes – in this case either the mind, body or both.
- This means it must be more than minor or trivial, so a cold or hurting your finger is not substantial because it a) will not last and b) won’t stop you living your life – your disability has to directly impact on your life and make it more difficult to do everyday things
- Your disability, legally has to have lasted or is going to last for at least twelve monthsThere are also special rules for recurring or fluctuating conditions – for example conditions that get better then worse.
Normal day-to-day activities
- All of the activities that comprise a normal life – can you do those things
- Go out by yourself?
- Eat/wash/dress yourself?
- Can you hold down ajob?
- Find your way to places without help?
- Cope withunfamiliar or surprising events in your life?
- Can you communicate with people – both listening, understanding and talking, do you understand other people’s emotions?
- Can you remember to do things without being reminded?
- Can you move around and reach/lift things?
- Can you go through a day/week/month without pain?
- A normal life is being able to be independent, make your own choices, look after yourself physically and mentally and know how to behave around people without hurting yourself or other people
What does not count as a disability?
So now this has hopefully cleared up what disability officially is, I’m going to quickly give a few examples of that are not disabilities, You are not considered disabled – regardless of the effect they have on your daily life, if you have any of these below:
- Addiction (of any kind – gambling or sexual)
- Exhibitionism (e.g. flashing)
- Abusing others (people or animals)
- A desire/need to steal, hurt others
- Changing gender identities
Most important to understand about disability is don’t assume! Disabled people can be fit, strong, intelligent and articulate.One type of disability does not define or speak for all.