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The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as difficulty in performing day-to-day tasks for a period of twelve months or longer because of a physical or mental impairment. This includes people with visible disabilities, such as wheelchair users, as well as those with invisible disabilities such as dyslexia. Since 2005, people with certain long-term illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, coronary heart disease or HIV are also considered disabled from the point of diagnosis.

There are different definitions of disability. The Scottish Public Health Observatory states that the individual or medical model focuses on the individual and their impairment, while the social model emphasises the restrictions imposed upon the person by their social and physical environment.

Scottish Government Evidence Reviews

The Scottish Government has published a series of Equality Evidence Reviews, to inform the development of the public sector’s equality outcomes. The reviews explore available evidence about the scale and severity of issues faced by people with protected characteristics including disability.


The Scottish Government Equality Evidence Finder includes information on:

The Scottish Public Health Observatory’s webpages includes key points on:

Information Services Division (ISD) has information on people with learning disabilities.  

The Scottish Council on Deafness has information on incidences of deafness in Scotland and the UK.

The Census Data Explorer provides access to aggregated and anonymised results from census releases. The information is derived from the Scottish 2011 Census questionnaire and includes information on disability, including long-term health conditions by general health.  


There are several policies addressing disability, examples include:

  • The keys to life is Scotland’s learning disability strategy. It has a strong focus on tackling the significant health inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities and includes many other measures to improve the quality of their lives.
  • The Mental Health Strategy for Scotland sets out a range of key commitments across the full spectrum of mental health improvement, services and recovery to ensure delivery of effective, quality care and treatment for people with a mental illness, their carers and families. 
  • See Hear is a strategic framework for meeting the needs of people with sensory impairment in Scotland. The framework applies to children and adults living with sensory impairment and offers practical advice, direction and recommendations
  • The Scottish Strategy for Autism aims to improve outcomes for people with autism and ensure that progress is made across Scotland in delivering quality services. The strategy website provides information on developments, news and events and progress.

The Christie Commission Report, the NHS Healthcare Quality Strategy, and Equally Well are all relevant to this population group. For further information, visit our policy page.


The Equality Act 2010 came into force in October 2010 and provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. There are nine protected characteristics under the Act, one of which is disability. For more information, visit our Equality Act page.

Embodied in the United Nations 2006, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the principal that member states recognise ‘the importance of accessibility to the physical, social, cultural and economic environment, to health and education, and to information and communication in enabling persons with disabilities to fully enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms’.

Updated April 2015

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