We asked Vaughan from our partner organisation, disAbility Cornwall, for a definition.

Here’s what he said:

Now there’s a question!

Some refer to 4 disability categories, others to 6. Most commonly however, seems to be breaking down ‘disability’ into a number of broad sub-categories, which can include the following 8 ‘main types’ of disability:

Mobility and Physical Impairments

This could include: limb loss, manual dexterity impairment, disability in co-ordination of different organs of the body. 

The physical disability the person experiences may be either congenital, or a result of injury, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, amputation, multiple sclerosis, pulmonary disease, heart disease or other reasons.

Some persons may experience non-visible disabilities that may include respiratory disorders, epilepsy, or other conditions.

Spinal Cord Disability

When the spinal cord is damaged, the communication between our brain and the rest of our body is disrupted, resulting in a loss of movement and sensation from below the level of injury.

Damage to the spinal cord can be caused by a trauma like an accident, or as a result of infection or disease.

Head Injuries (TBI) - Brain Disability

Some brain disorders are caused by damage to the brain, from cerebral trauma, strokes, infections, drugs, toxins, or from a degenerative disease like Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s chorea, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis.

Vision Disability

Eye disorders which can lead to visual impairments can include retinal degeneration, albinism, cataracts, glaucoma, muscular problems that result in visual disturbances, corneal disorders, diabetic retinopathy, congenital disorders, and infection.

Visual impairment can also be caused by brain and nerve disorders, in which case it is usually termed cortical visual impairment (CVI).

Hearing Disability

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Cognitive or Learning Disabilities

The term cognitive disability can be used to describe other various disabilities such as mental retardation, dyslexia, autism, and other learning disabilities.

In simpler terms, a cognitive disability is a disability that adversely affects someone’s brain in such a way that it is harder for them to do normal tasks that average people can complete. 

Psychological Disorders

A mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activity.

There are many different types of mental health condition which can lead to a disability, including:

  • dementia
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • schizophrenia

The Mind website has more help and guidance.

Invisible Disabilities

Invisible disabilities are such symptoms as debilitating fatigue, pain, cognitive dysfunctions and mental disorders, as well as hearing and eyesight impairments and more.

There are thousands of illnesses, disorders, diseases, dysfunctions, congenital disabilities, impairments, and injuries that can be debilitating. Therefore, all conditions that are debilitating are taken into consideration when we talk about invisible disabilities.

There is no definitive list of disabilities to the best of our knowledge, although it’s often presumed that there is. It’s similar to the way people often believe a disabled person is ‘registered disabled,’ which they aren’t.

The DWP used to use a handbook of the 50 conditions which would qualify for consideration of a disability benefit award. This ended 10 or so years ago. 

You are regarded as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

By ‘substantial’ they mean it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed. By ‘long-term’ they mean 12 months or more, like a breathing condition which developed as a result of a lung infection, for example.

Then there are special rules about recurring or fluctuating conditions such as arthritis. It’s a bit of a minefield to be honest!