Physical disabilities and sensory impairment

Content last reviewed: October 2017


A disability and or a sensory impairment can significantly impact on an individual’s daily living, from requiring additional personal support to access issues.

The term disability covers a wide range of impairments.  The World Health Organisation defines disability as:

Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.”

Under the Equality Act 2010 you are considered to be disabled if you have an impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to carry out normal day to day activities.

  • substantial’ - meaning an impairment that takes an individual much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed
  • ‘long-term’ - meaning an impairment that lasts 12 months or more, like a breathing condition that has developed as a result of a lung infection.

Under the Care Act 2014 anyone deemed to be vulnerable including physical disability and sensory impairment is eligible for a care and support assessment.

People may have lived with a physical disability all of their lives or the physical disability may have developed in adulthood for example because of a neurological condition such as multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease. Physical disabilities may also occur as a result of a traumatic event such as spinal injury or a brain injury including stroke.

Sensory impairment refers to visual impairments and hearing impairments. Again, people may have been living with sensory impairments all their life, or may have developed sight or hearing loss in their later years.

This chapter will not expand further on various medical and long term conditions that contribute to Physical Disability as these are covered in other sections of the JSNA, but will however expand on the issues that are important to people with physical disability in terms of enabling them to remain independent in the community and manage their condition living as full a life as possible.

For the purposes of this JSNA, Sensory Impairment refers to:

  • Blind people and people with a Visual Impairment
  • Deaf people and people with a Hearing Impairment
  • People with severe sight and hearing loss combined (dual sensory loss/deafblind).

This chapter will be concentrating on people of working age - 18 years to 64 years.

Last updated Tuesday, 10th October 2017