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Check if you’re protected from disability discrimination

This advice applies to Scotland

If you think you’ve experienced disability discrimination, you should check if the Equality Act 2010’s definition of disability applies to you. The Equality Act is the law that stops employers, businesses and service providers discriminating against you.

If you want to take action about disability discrimination, you'll need to show you’re disabled under the Equality Act.

Some conditions are always disabilities under the Equality Act, for example cancer and HIV.

If you need to apply for disability benefits and support

The Equality Act’s definition of disability only applies to discrimination. There are different rules for disability benefits and other types of disability support.

If you need financial support, you should check what benefits you can get if you’re sick or disabled

If you drive or use public transport, you can check what help you can get with transport costs.

How to check if you’re disabled under the Equality Act

To work out if you’re disabled under the Equality Act, you need to check if:

  1. You have ‘an impairment’ - this means your physical or mental abilities are different or reduced in some way compared to most people

  2. Your impairment makes it harder to do everyday activities 

  3. The effect of your impairment is long-term

The Equality Act’s definition of disability is quite wide so you might be considered disabled under the Equality Act even if you don’t see yourself as disabled - for example if you’re autistic or if you have ADHD or a long-term injury.

Some conditions are always disabilities under the Equality Act.

Conditions that are always disabilities under the Equality Act

You’ll always be considered disabled under the Equality Act if:

  •  you have cancer - or any condition that is likely to become cancer if it’s not treated, for example skin growths

  •  you have multiple sclerosis

  •  you have HIV - even if you don't have any symptoms

  • you’re registered as blind or sight impaired - you can check how to register as blind or sight impaired on RNIB’s website

  •  you have a severe, long-term disfigurement - for example severe facial scarring or a skin disease

If you have any of these conditions, you don’t need to show that your impairment has a long term effect on your ability to do everyday activities. 

If you think you’ve experienced disability discrimination, you should check what type of discrimination you’ve experienced.

Step 1: Check if you have an impairment

An impairment can be any physical or mental health condition. You can also have an impairment if there are any physical or mental abilities that you struggle with more compared to most people. For example, an impairment could be difficulty focusing, communicating, sleeping or hearing. 

You might have an impairment even if you don’t see yourself as disabled, for example if:

  • you’re neurodivergent - for example if you’re autistic or if you have ADHD, dyslexia or dyspraxia

  • you experience low mood, anxiety or phobias

  • you’re going through menopause

  • you have a long-term injury - for example a brain or back injury

  • you have ‘long covid’ symptoms - for example extreme tiredness and muscle aches

Your impairment is considered a disability under the Equality Act if it makes it harder for you to do everyday activities.

Example

Jodi’s been struggling with stress and burnout at work for over a year. This causes her to have difficulty focusing, extreme tiredness and difficulty sleeping. 

These would all be seen as impairments under the Equality Act. It doesn’t matter that burnout isn’t a diagnosed medical condition.

Jodi would be considered disabled under the Equality Act if her impairments make it harder for her to do any everyday activities.

If you struggle with addiction

If you struggle with the use of alcohol, nicotine or any other drug, you usually won’t be considered disabled under the Equality Act. 

You might be considered disabled if: 

  • the addiction has caused an impairment -  for example if you struggle with alcohol use and this has caused liver disease 

  • an impairment caused the addiction - for example if you have depression and this caused you to struggle with drug use

  • you got addicted to medication that was prescribed to you - for example painkillers

Step 2: Check if your impairment makes everyday activities harder

Your impairment is usually considered a disability under the Equality Act if it makes it harder for you to do everyday activities. Everyday activities can be anything you generally need to do regularly to live well, for example washing, communicating or using transport.

Your impairment doesn’t have to stop you doing activities completely, but it must have more than a small effect on your abilities. The Equality Act calls this a ‘substantial’ effect.

Example

Ahmed has breathing difficulties which mean he can only walk for a short time before he needs to stop and rest. This is likely to be a substantial effect under the Equality Act.

If Ahmed only needed to rest after 30 minutes of walking, this might not be a substantial effect under the Equality Act.

Your impairment might have a substantial effect if it:

  • makes daily tasks take longer than they would if you didn’t have the impairment - like getting dressed, going to the toilet or making food 

  • makes it difficult for you to go out on your own

  • means you can’t concentrate on things like watching TV or reading 

  • makes it hard for you to talk to people and socialise

If you have more than one impairment

If your impairments only have a small effect on their own, you’ll still be disabled under the Equality Act if their combined effect makes it harder for you to do everyday activities.

Example

Ruby has a mild learning disability. This means it takes her slightly longer to process information compared to someone who doesn’t have her learning disability. 

Ruby also has a mild speech impairment that slightly affects her ability to say certain words.

Each of Ruby’s impairments only has a small effect on its own. However, together Ruby’s impairments have a substantial effect on her ability to talk to other people.

If you have an impairment that will get worse

If your impairment has no effect or just a small effect now, you’ll still be disabled under the Equality Act if it’s likely to get worse later. This is called a ‘progressive’ condition. 

For example, dementia, Parkinson’s and  rheumatoid arthritis are progressive conditions. 

If you’re not sure if your condition will get worse, you should speak to a doctor or health professional.

If you use medicine, treatment or assistive technology

The Equality Act says you should look at the effect of your impairment if you didn't use medicine, treatment or assistive technology. Treatment includes things like physiotherapy and counselling. Assistive technology includes things like wheelchairs, hearing aids and screen readers.

If your impairment would make things harder for you without any medicine, treatment or assistive technology, you might be disabled under the Equality Act. 

If you’re not sure what would happen if you stopped using medicine, treatment or assistive technology, you can get advice from your doctor or a health professional.

The rules are different if you have a sight impairment. You should look at the effect of your impairment when you wear glasses or contact lenses.

Example

Kemi has type 1 diabetes. She has to monitor her glucose levels and give herself insulin injections several times a day. If Kemi controls her glucose levels, she doesn’t usually have any symptoms. 

Kemi would still be disabled under the Equality Act because without the correct dose of insulin, her diabetes would make it harder for her to do everyday activities.

If you’re not sure how your impairment affects you

If you can, keep a record of what you do every day, what you find difficult and why. This might show you how your impairment is affecting your daily life. 

People who know you well, like your friends and family, might also be able to help think of ways your impairment affects you. 

You could also speak to your doctor or a health professional about how your impairment affects your everyday activities.

Step 3: Check if the effect of your impairment is ‘long-term’

If you know your impairment makes it harder for you to do everyday activities, you need to check the effect is long-term. 

The Equality Act says the effect of your impairment is long-term if either: 

  • it has lasted for at least a year

  • it is likely to last for at least a year

If you're expected to live for less than a year, the effect of your impairment must be likely to last for the rest of your life.

If you’re not sure how long your impairment will last you should try to get advice from your doctor or a health professional.

If your symptoms come and go

You might have an impairment that comes and goes so it only affects you for less than 12 months at a time. Lots of conditions come and go, for example arthritis, fibromyalgia, depression or epilepsy. You might call them fluctuating or recurring conditions, or conditions that flare up.

You’ll still be disabled under the Equality Act if the effect of your impairment is likely to happen again in the next 12 months.

Example

John has epilepsy which causes him to have seizures. This makes it harder for John to do everyday activities, for example he can’t go out on his own because he’s likely to fall down.

John’s condition improves for a time but the effects on his activities are likely to happen again within a year. These effects would be considered long-term under the Equality Act.

If you think you’re disabled under the Equality Act

It’s unlawful for employers, businesses and service providers to treat you unfairly - this includes refusing to make reasonable adjustments.

If you want to check if you’ve experienced unlawful disability discrimination, you should: 

If you want to take action about disability discrimination, you can check what you can do about discrimination.

If you’re not disabled under the Equality Act

You can’t make a claim about disability discrimination if your impairment doesn't meet the Equality Act’s definition of disability.

If you’ve been treated badly, you might be able to take action using different laws. You can:

If you were treated unfairly because someone thought you were disabled

You might win a discrimination case if you can show you were treated unfairly because someone thought you were disabled under the Equality Act. This is called ‘discrimination by perception’. For example, if you were fired because your employer thought you had HIV, this is discrimination by perception.

If you’re in this situation, check what you can do about discrimination.

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