Who is a disabled person?

2008-07-09 by

The UK’s Disability Discrimination Act’s (DDA) definition of disability has been expanded in 2005 to include people with HIV, people with facial disfigurements, people with diabetes and so forth. To be considered disabled, according to the DDA, someone’s impairment has to be significant i.e. affect those daily actions that many people take for granted such as getting out of bed, washing, getting dressed, going shopping, etc. It also has to last for at least twelve months and be officially diagnosed by a doctor.

In my face-to-face training I’m often asked whether the definition of a disabled person, as per the DDA, has been expanded too much? Many people now find themselves defined as disabled according to the law even if they don’t consider themselves to be disabled – they see it as a label, something that does not represent who they are.

This question does not surprise me because disability is still very much a taboo in our society and is viewed as something terrible, extremely undesirable, and for many almost worse than death. How many times have we heard the phrase ‘Oh if I became blind or paralysed or had AIDS, etc. I’d rather die’?

I am not claiming that disability is desirable, although it can be for some: for example some Deaf parents wish to have deaf children. But the job of the DDA is not to give labels but to protect the most vulnerable people who are discriminated against because of their disability.

For example: if you have Diabetes, a non-obvious disability, you can regard yourself as not having a disability or having one, it is up to you and how you cope with it. But the moment an employer sacks you from your job, falsely claiming that because of Health and Safety you cannot work with them any longer, that’s when the DDA protects you and helps you deal with this unfair treatment.

This issue of being ‘labelled’ disabled is a very important one, as many people with impairments do not wish to identify themselves as such. In a society that collects and monitors statistical information such as gender, race, age and so forth, disability ‘data’ is often difficult to capture. This is because many people do not wish to tick the box ‘disabled’, yet they might have very real access and accommodation needs.

In response to the original question: has the definition of Disabled Person been expanded too much in the DDA 2005? In my opinion it has not, in fact, it is very important to understand that the DDA is not there to force people to ‘tick boxes’ – it is there to be used as a legislative tool to help eradicate negative discrimination. With that definition expanded more people are protected than before, and that in my opinion, is an excellent thing.

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