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2.1 The Equality Act defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. People who have a disability, and people who have had a disability but no longer have one, are covered by the Act. The terms of the definition are further explained below.

2.2 Impairment

The definition covers physical impairments and impairments affecting the senses such as sight and hearing. It also covers mental impairments, including learning disabilities and mental illness (where a condition is recognized by a respected body of medical opinion).

2.3 Substantial

For an effect to be substantial, it must be more than minor or trivial; examples of substantial effects are: inability to see moving traffic clearly enough to cross a road safely, inability to turn taps or knobs, or inability to remember and relay a simple message correctly.

2.4 Long-term

These are effects that have lasted for at least twelve months, or are likely to last for at least twelve months, or are likely to last for the rest of the life of the person affected. Long-term effects include those which are likely to recur. For example, an effect will be considered to be long-term if it is likely both to recur and to do so at least once beyond the twelve-month period following the first occurrence.

2.5 Day-to-day activities

These are normal activities carried out by most people on a regular basis, and must involve one of the following broad categories:

  1. mobility
  2. manual dexterity
  3. physical co-ordination
  4. continence
  5. the ability to lift, carry, or move ordinary objects
  6. speech, hearing, or eyesight
  7. memory, or ability to concentrate, learn, or understand
  8. the ability to recognize physical danger.

2.6 Particular cases or conditions

  1. Severe disfigurements are treated as disabilities, although they may have no effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
  2. Medication or equipment (such as an artificial limb) which helps an impairment is not taken into account when considering whether an impairment has a substantial effect. An exception to this principle is made in the case of people who wear spectacles or contact lenses which fully correct the visual impairment.
  3. The Act covers progressive conditions where impairments are likely to become substantial, such as cancer, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy. The Act covers people with these conditions from the moment that there is a noticeable effect on day-to-day activities, however slight.
  4. The Act does not cover people with a gene that causes a disability unless they actually develop the disability.
  5. The definition covers people who have in the past had a disability which is covered by the Act. They are still protected if they have recovered, even if they recovered before the Act came into force. For example, people with epilepsy are protected by the Act even if they have not suffered an epileptic attack for several years, and someone who has suffered a nervous breakdown in the past is still protected against discrimination, even if subsequently he or she has fully recovered.