What is Disability?
Disability means different things to different people. What should
and shouldn't be described as a disability? Is disability a physical,
medical or social concept?
The University of Essex follows the
Social Model of disability.
This focuses on barriers placed on disabled people by society eg ‘John
is disabled because this building only has steps and no ramp’. The
medical model, which is the best known model, looks only at the
impairment and the charitable model looks at disability as a personal
A disabled person is defined by the Equality Act 2010
(which brought together previous legislation including the
Disability Discrimination Act) as someone with a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial
and long-term adverse impact on their ability to carry out
This definition includes people with cancer, HIV, multiple
sclerosis and heart conditions and people who have a hearing or sight
impairment (except where the person’s sight can be corrected by
glasses or contact lenses) or a significant mobility difficulty. It
also includes people with hidden disabilities such as diabetes,
epilepsy and dyslexia and people who have mental health conditions or
While they are officially considered to be ‘disabled’, people don’t
always choose to use that term about themselves. A recent survey
showed that 52 per cent of people who qualified as ‘disabled’ under
the legislation did not consider themselves disabled or disclose a disability.
At the University, we aim to respect all views and definitions. Our
goal is to offer help to anyone who feels they have been, or may
potentially be disadvantaged as a result of their medical, physical,
social or emotional circumstances. Please contact us if you'd like to
discuss your circumstances.
Should I disclose a
There is significant underreporting of disability. However if you
are ‘disabled’ under the terms of the Act there are good reasons to
let the University know. Personally it could help you by
discussing reasonable adjustments. Generally disclosing will ensure
that the University’s monitoring data is a more genuine reflection of
the numbers of people who are disabled. The University will be better
placed to make good decisions in its planning if the data it’s using
in that decision making is accurate.
If you are disabled but have not told the University then you can
let us know, even if you don’t want or need any adjustments to be
Who to contact
Students: Contact the
Service in Student Support
e-mail: disab(non essex users add @essex.ac.uk)
phone: 01206 872365
Equality and Diversity
e-mail: diversity (non essex users add @essex.ac.uk)
phone: 01206 873506