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Check if you're disabled under the Equality Act

This advice applies to Wales

The Equality Act 2010 sets out when someone is considered to be disabled and protected from discrimination. The definition covers a range of illnesses and conditions - so check it even if you don’t think you’re disabled. For example, you might be covered if you have a dyslexia, autism or chronic migraines.

The definition is set out in section 6 of the Equality Act 2010. It says you’re disabled if:

  • you have a physical or mental impairment
  • your impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to do normal day-to-day activities

Some impairments are automatically treated as a disability, even if they don't affect your day-to-day activities. You’ll be covered if you:

  • have cancer, including growths that need removing before they become cancerous
  • are certified as blind, severely sight impaired, sight impaired or partially sighted
  • have multiple sclerosis
  • are HIV positive - even if you don't have any symptoms
  • have a severe disfigurement - for example severe facial scarring or a skin disease

These are covered in Schedule 1, Part 1 of the Equality Act 2010 and in Regulation 7 of the Equality Act 2010 (Disability) Regulations 2010.

Check if you have an impairment

You have an impairment if your physical or mental abilities are reduced in some way. This could be the result of a medical condition - for example, if you have arthritis in your hands and you can’t grip or carry things very well.

An impairment doesn’t have to be a diagnosed medical condition. If you’re suffering from stress, you might have:

  • mental impairments - like difficulty concentrating
  • physical impairments - like extreme tiredness and difficulty sleeping.

If you don't have a diagnosis, you still need medical evidence to show your impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to do day-to-day activities.

Your impairment doesn’t have to stop you doing anything, as long as it makes it harder. It might cause you pain, make tasks take a long time or mean you can't do an activity more than once.

Example

Jodi’s been struggling with everyday tasks since her partner left her a year ago. She can’t plan activities like shopping or following a recipe to cook a meal. She wouldn’t get up and dressed in the mornings if her daughter didn’t encourage her. She’s stopped going out because she doesn’t want to talk to people.

Jodi has a mental impairment. It doesn’t matter if she’s hasn't been diagnosed with a medical condition like depression - although that can help to prove she has an impairment. But she'll need to show the impairment is long-term and has a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out day-to-day activities. 

Example

Ahmed has Asperger’s Syndrome. He finds the world overwhelming and this causes him considerable anxiety. He also has difficulty communicating and interacting with other people.

Ahmed doesn’t think he’s disabled as he’s not physically impaired. However, he has an impairment because the effect of his condition means he can't do some normal day-to-day activities - like going to the shops alone and socialising.

Conditions that aren't impairments

Some conditions aren’t disabilities under the Equality Act 2010. They include:

  • hayfever
  • voyeurism or exhibitionism
  • a tendency to set fire to things
  • a tendency to steal things
  • a tendency to physically or sexually abuse others

The full list is in the Equality Act 2010 (Disability) Regulations 2010.

Addictions

An addiction to alcohol, nicotine or any other substance isn’t a disability.

But you might be disabled if you have an impairment caused by addiction. For example, if you have liver disease or depression caused by alcohol dependency.

It might also be a disability if your addiction was originally caused by medical treatment or medically prescribed drugs.

Check if your impairment’s long term

A long-term effect means something that affects you for at least a year. For example, if you had an operation that will make walking difficult for at least a year.

Your impairment is still considered long term if the effects are likely to come and go. These are known as ‘fluctuating or recurring’ effects.

For example, you’ve had periods of depression for a few months at a time but then months in between where it doesn’t affect you. Each episode of depression lasts less than 12 months, but it can meet the definition of long term if:

  • it has a substantial adverse effect when it happens
  • it could happen again

The definition of what is long term is in Schedule 1 of the Equality Act 2010.

If you have a terminal illness

Your impairment is also still considered long term if it’s likely to affect you for the rest of your life, even if your life expectancy is less than a year.


Example

John has epilepsy, which causes him to have seizures. It has a substantial and adverse effect on his ability to do normal day-to-day activities - for example he can’t go out alone because he’s likely to fall down.

His condition improves for a time, but the substantial adverse effects are likely to happen again - this means his condition is considered long term.

Check if the effect of your impairment is substantial

A substantial effect on your day-to-day activities means one that’s ‘more than minor or trivial’.

The effect on your normal day-to-day activities might be substantial if you have more than one impairment.

A substantial effect could be if you: 

  • take longer with everyday tasks - like getting dressed, going to the toilet or preparing meals
  • find it difficult to go out on your own because you have a phobia, physical restriction or learning disability
  • can't concentrate on watching TV or reading a newspaper because you have a mental health condition
  • find it difficult to talk to people and avoid socialising because you are autistic and can’t always understand what people mean
  • lose awareness of your surroundings because you have seizures
  • need to use reading aids because you have dyslexia

The effects might only be ‘minor or trivial’ if they have very little effect on your daily life, like if you just have to stop for a few minutes' rest after walking for a mile at a normal pace.

If your condition’s going to get worse

If you have a long-term condition that’s going to get worse, the effect on your day-to-day activities doesn’t have to be substantial now if it’s likely to become substantial in the future. This is called a ‘progressive condition’.

If you take medication or have treatment for your condition

The legal test for disability is based on what the impact of your condition would be without any medication or treatment. Treatment includes things like counselling as well as medication. For example, if you have arthritis and use a walking stick, think about how hard it would be for you to walk without it.

The legal test doesn't apply if you have a visual impairment. Legally, you are considered disabled if there's a significant impact on your eyesight even when you're wearing glasses or contact lenses.

Example

Tom has type 1 diabetes. He has daily insulin injections that mean he doesn’t usually have any symptoms. 

He's disabled because without the injections the diabetes would have a substantial long-term adverse effect on his normal day-to-day activities. He would collapse and the condition is likely to recur. 

If your employer says they don’t think you have a disability

You should explain why you think you have a disability. You'll need to explain:

  • what impairment you have - if you don’t know what the impairment is, explain its effects
  • why it’s long term
  • what the substantial adverse effect is - without aids, medication or treatment

Then ask your employer why they disagree.

If your employer disagrees, you can continue with your claim but they might still dispute that you have a disability. If you decide to take legal action, they could challenge the basis of your case by saying you don’t meet the definition of having a disability.

The tribunal would decide if you have a disability by considering evidence from both parties. It will listen to what you say, but you might also need to show them medical evidence - like a letter from your GP or consultant.

If you need evidence to show you have a disability

You can get evidence from your doctor or another medical professional. This could include:

  • how long your impairment is likely to last and if it’s likely to get worse
  • what would happen if you stopped your medication or other treatment
  • the effect it has on everyday activities

You can also keep a diary for a while - write down what you do, what you find difficult and why. This could make it clearer how much your impairment is affecting your normal day-to-day activities. Your friends and family might also be able to help you think of ways you’re affected.

If you need more advice or information

You can read the full guidance on how to define disability on GOV.UK or get help from an adviser.

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