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Occupational Health and Safety Services

Not everyone who is able to access the DSO’s services will think of themselves as disabled, but we need to use the single term 'disability' to cover the broad range of physical and sensory impairments, medical conditions, specific learning difficulties and mental health needs

There are many kinds of disability, some more widely understood and visible than others.  Many people at the University may have a disability covered by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) without even realising it. 

Types of disability

The definition is quite broad as the key thing is not the impairment but its effect. Some people don’t realise that impairments such as migraines, dyslexia, asthma and back pain can count as a disability if the adverse effect on the individual is substantial and long-term.

For example, it can often include people with:

  • A sensory (visual/hearing) impairment;
  • A mental health difficulty e.g. depression, anxiety or bipolar;
  • A mobility impairment e.g. arthritis;
  • A dexterity impairment e.g. upper limb disorder (sometimes referred to as repetitive strain injury – RSI);
  • Asperger's Syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders;
  • Chronic medical conditions (E.g. diabetes, epilepsy, asthma, heart conditions, cancer, HIV);
  • Chronic pain/chronic fatigue;
  • Specific learning difficulties (e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia).

The legal definition

The legal definition of disability is that you have a mental or physical impairment that has an adverse effect on your ability to carry out day-to-day activities. 

The effect must be:

  • Substantial – in other words, not minor or trivial.  You are still considered disabled if the effects of the impairment are alleviated or removed by ongoing treatment or aids (possible example – medication);
  • Long-term – which is usually taken to mean that it has lasted or is likely to last, for more than 12 months.

Specific exclusions from the definition of disability in the DDA

Certain conditions are to be regarded as not amounting to impairments for the purposes of the DDA.

These are:

  • Addiction to or dependency on alcohol, nicotine, or any other substance (other than as a result of the substance being medically prescribed);
  • Seasonal allergic rhinitis (e.g. hay fever), except where it aggravates the effect of another condition;
  • Tendency to set fires;
  • Tendency to steal;
  • Tendency to physical or sexual abuse of other persons;
  • Exhibitionism;
  • Voyeurism.

Also, disfigurements which consist of a tattoo (which has not been removed), non-medical body piercing, or something attached through such piercing, are to be treated as not having a substantial adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Further information

If you are unsure if a member of staff is covered by the definition and would like to discuss informally and get guidance, please do contact the Disability Staff Adviser at: