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How Equality Act 2010 applies to adult communication impairments in Britain

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Physical or mental impairment

For something to be a 'disability' within the Equality Act, it must be a 'physical or mental impairment'.

Key points

  • One requirement to meet the definition of 'disability' is that there must be a 'physical or mental impairment'.
  • This should normally not be a problem with a communication disorder.

Physical or mental

'Physical' and 'mental' are understood broadly. When the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was going through Parliament, the Minister indicated that these terms were intended to be seen in their widest sense and should comprehensively cover all forms of impairment
(Hansard, H.C., Session 1994-95, Standing Committee E, cols 71,72, 101).

The impairment must be 'physical' or 'mental'. However, paragraph A6 of the Statutory Guidance on the definition of disability says it may not always be possible to say which is the case. Nor is it necessary to do so. The Guidance also says it is not necessary to consider how an impairment is caused (paragraph A7).

In one case on a 'speech impediment', the Employment Tribunal considered it to be a 'physical' impairment - Blacker v Servisair (UK) Ltd (link to (2004).

Employment Tribunals have also, for example, considered cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis to be 'physical' impairments (both can impair communication).

It may be sensible to include both 'physical' and 'mental' impairment in a claim form, in case it is disputed which applies.


There must also be an 'impairment', but again this should not generally be a problem with communciation disorders. An example of a case (not on communication) considering whether there was an 'impairment' is J v DLA Piper (link to (2010). Here the Employment Appeal Tribunal drew a distinction between on the one hand a mental condition, 'clinical depression', which was an 'impairment' within the Equality Act, and on the other hand anxiety created by 'adverse life events' (normally shorter term).