What is a disability?

Disability is part of everyday human life and diversity.  1 in 5 Australians has one or more disabilities and this proportion is increasing with the ageing of the population.  The majority of people with disability have a physical disability (83.9%), 11.3% have mental illness or behavioural disorders, and 4.8% have an intellectual or learning disabilities.  2.2 million Australians of working age live with a disability.

A disability is any condition that may restrict a person's mental, sensory or mobility functions. This can be caused from accident, trauma, disease or genetics and a disability can be temporary or permanent.

We don't always see someone's disability, This means that every day we cross paths with people who live with a disability and we don't even realize, these people are friends, work mates, class friends and family. Disability does not discriminate against Race, Age or Religion, it can affect all people within our society.

Although some people are born with disability, many people who currently have a disability may have spent much of their lives without it.  For example, people who have acquired their disability through a workplace incident or car accident, and people who may have acquired a disability as they age.

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

The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act (1992) 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 judgement, or that results in disturbed behaviour;

and includes a 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).