What is disability?
A wide range of health and learning conditions meet the legal definition of ‘disability’.
Disability is defined very broadly in the Disability Standards for Education 2005 (the Standards). It includes loss of bodily function, damage to bodily function, disease or illness, and disorders of thought processes, emotions, judgement or behaviour. The Standards apply to all students with disability. The Standards also apply to students who are carers of someone with disability, even if they themselves do not have disability.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 (the Standards) apply to people who have:
- total or partial loss of bodily or mental functions
- total or partial loss of a part of the body
- the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness
- the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness
- the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the body
- a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction
- a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgement or that results in disturbed behaviour.
The definition includes a disability that:
- exists now; or previously existed but no longer exists
- may exist in the future (some disabilities develop at a later date due to genetic or other factors)
- is imputed (attributed) to a person.
Behaviour that is a symptom or manifestation of the disability is specifically included in the definition of disability.
The broad definition of disability in the DDA includes people who may not consider themselves as having a disability, for example, people who have broken limbs from an accident and are temporarily using crutches or a wheelchair.
It also includes people who are colour blind or who use corrective devices such as reading glasses. The law applies to such people if they experience discrimination as a result of their impairment. For example, if someone who needs reading glasses is prevented from using them at school or at work, they may be experiencing discrimination and are thus covered by the DDA.
In other contexts, disability is defined less broadly. Many services aim to assist people with a particular type of disability, and funding programs for students with disability have defined eligibility criteria. The Standards apply to all students with disability. The Standards also apply to students who are carers of someone with a disability, even if they themselves do not have a disability.
Did you know?
Not all disability is obvious. While using a wheelchair or a walking frame suggests a person has a disability, many people have less ‘visible’ disability. This may include mental health or neurological conditions.
Students who are carers
The Standards also apply to students who care for a family member with a disability, even if the student does not have a disability. Some students, even while at primary school, care for a family member with disability. Where this affects their education, the school must consider the needs of the student and provide appropriate supports.
People with disability reflect our society with its diverse racial, ethnic, religious, family and other cultural groups. Students with disability and their parents, guardians and carers have the right to an education that takes into account their cultural values.
Different cultures may have different views of disability and also different ways of responding to the needs of people with disability. This means that some people with disability may have different preferences about how their educational needs should be met. The Standards still apply to anybody who meets the broad definition of disability in the DDA, even if that person or their associate does not acknowledge they have a disability.
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