What is a Disability?

Disability is a broad term used to describe a whole range of conditions. 'Section 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA), defines disability as:

  • Total or partial loss of a person's bodily or mental functions; or
  • Total or partial loss of a part of the body; or
  • The presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness; or
  • The malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of part of a person's body; or
  • A disorder or malfunction that results in a person learning differently from a person without the
  • disorder or malfunction; or
  • A disorder, illness or disease that affects a person's thought processes, perception of reality,
  • emotions or judgement or that results in disturbed behaviour.

It includes a disability that:

  • Presently exists; or
  • Previously existed but no longer exits; or
  • May exist in the future; or
  • Is imputed to a person

Some disabilities may not be obvious and it may be difficult to acknowledge the disability, however being aware will allow you and your young person to access the right level of support to take advantage of opportunities and make practical choices that align with their aspirations.

Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1992

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1992 is a Federal Act, makes discrimination on the grounds of disability unlawful.

One of the aims of this Act is to eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination on the grounds of disability in areas of education, access to public premises and employment.  This means employers and service providers need to make whatever adjustments are necessary and reasonable to allow people with disabilities to use those services to the same extent as other people without disability.

A person's disability should be taken into account only when it is relevant and fair to do so.

The definition of a disability under the DDA is broad and includes:

  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Psychiatric
  • Sensory
  • Neurological and learning disabilities
  • Physical disfigurement and
  • The presence in the body of disease causing organisms.

What is a disability?

  • Loss of physical or mental functions e.g. person who has quadriplegia, a brain injury, epilepsy or a vision or hearing impairment.
  • Loss of part of the body e.g. amputation.
  • Infectious and non-infectious diseases and illnesses e.g. AIDS, hepatitis, TB, allergies, typhoid bacteria.
  • Malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of a person's body e.g. diabetes, asthma, birthmarks or scars.
  • A condition, which means a person learns differently from other, people e.g. autism, dyslexia, and intellectual disability.
  • Any condition which affects a person's thought process, understanding of reality, emotions or judgement or which results in disturbed behaviour e.g. depression, neurosis, personality disorder, schizophrenia.

The Act covers a disability which a person:

  • has at present e.g.: cerebral palsy or diabetes;
  • had in the past e.g.: repetitive strain injury, cancer or a mental illness;
  • may have in the future e.g.: HIV positive and potential to develop AIDS;
  • is imputed to have e.g.: on the basis of living with someone with a disease such as AIDS or hepatitis.

The DDA also covers a person who:

  • needs special equipment to assist them e.g. a wheelchair or oxygen supply;
  • is accompanied by a carer, interpreter, reader or assistant;
  • is accompanied by a guide or hearing dog or other trained assistance animal;
  • is an associate of a person with a disability e.g.: a friend or a family member.

Direct discrimination occurs where a person with a disability is treated less favourably than a person without a disability would be treated in the same or a similar situation.

Indirect discrimination occurs where there is a requirement, condition or practice that is the same for everyone but has an unfair impact/effect on people with disabilities.

Discrimination must occur in one of these areas:

  • Employment and work related areas
  • Education
  • Access to premises
  • Goods, Services and Facilities
  • Accommodation
  • Land
  • Clubs and Associations
  • Sport
  • Commonwealth Laws and Programs

Equity, Access & Inclusion

Access, inclusion, and equity are about services being available to everyone who is entitled to them, and for these services to be free of any form of discrimination.  This means services should be developed and delivered on the basis of fair treatment for clients who are eligible to receive them.


"Disclosure" refers to the personal decision to tell another person, employer or institution about a disability. It is important to realise that there are rights and responsibilities that a person with a disability has within disclosure. For example, within employment, one may need to disclose if their disability impacts the ability to perform their role.  Within education one is not in any way obliged to disclose their disability.

However, if they choose not to do so, the employer or staff of the education provider will not be able to meet their specific needs if they have not been informed of them. It is also important to think about what you may want to achieve by disclosing and who they want to disclose their disability to.

When commencing employment education, training or employment it is important to prepare a plan for how, when and to who you will disclose your disability. For more information about disclosure and reasons why or why not someone may disclose, you can go to the following weblink: Choosing your path. Disclosure: It's a personal decision http://pubsites.uws.edu.au/ndco/disclosure/


  • Human Rights Commission
  • Equal Opportunity Commission
  • Training Advocate
  • Employee Ombudsman
  • Legal Services Commission
  • Young Workers Legal Service
  • Advocacy Agencies

National Disability Coordination Officer
Programme (NDCO). South Australia:
Regions: 23-24-25


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