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What is disability?

A disability is any continuing condition that restricts everyday activities. The Disability Services Act (1993) defines ‘disability’ as meaning a disability:

  • which is attributable to an intellectual, psychiatric, cognitive, neurological, sensory or physical impairment or a combination of those impairments
  • which is permanent or likely to be permanent
  • which may or may not be of a chronic or episodic nature
  • which results in substantially reduced capacity of the person for communication, social interaction, learning or mobility and a need for continuing support services.


With the assistance of appropriate aids and services, the restrictions experienced by many people with a disability may be overcome.

Types of disability

The main categories of disability are physical, sensory, psychiatric, neurological, cognitive and intellectual. Many people with disability have multiple disabilities.

A physical disability is the most common type of disability, followed by intellectual and sensory disability. Physical disability generally relates to disorders of the musculoskeletal, circulatory, respiratory and nervous systems.

Sensory disability involves impairments in hearing and vision.

Neurological and cognitive disability includes acquired disability such as multiple sclerosis or traumatic brain injury. Intellectual disability includes intellectual and developmental disability which relate to difficulties with thought processes, learning, communicating, remembering information and using it appropriately, making judgments and problem solving. Intellectual disability is the result of interaction between developmentally attributable cognitive impairment, attitudinal and environmental barriers.

Psychiatric disorders resulting in disability may include anxiety disorders, phobias or depression.