This is a legally defined term and is part of one of the elements to the definition of special educational needs.

Someone has a disability if they have a:

  • physical or mental impairment 
  • which has a substantial (more than minor or trivial) and 
  • long-term (lasting more than one year or likely to last more than one year) 
  • adverse effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

This is a wide definition, and can cover physical or mental health problems, as well as conditions such as dyslexia or autism. You are also covered by the Equality Act 2010 if you had a disability in the past. For example, if you had a mental health condition in the past which lasted for over 12 months, but you have now recovered, you are still protected from discrimination because of that disability.

Some conditions are automatically counted as disabilities, and these are:

  • being certified blind or partially sighted,
  • having a severe disfigurement,
  • cancer,
  • HIV infection, or,
  • multiple sclerosis.

A disabled child or young person  may also have special educational needs but not automatically. If they do not meet the definition for having special educational needs, they will still be considered disabled under the Equality Act 2010. Education settings and local authorities will have duties not to discriminate against them.

It may also be that a child or young person with special educational needs might be disabled, but not automatically. This will depend on them meeting the definition of disability set out above. If they are not considered disabled, they will still have special educational needs, and the Children and Families Act 2014 will apply to them.