AbilityNet Factsheet - June 2024

What you need to know about Disability Awareness

AbilityNet is a charity that supports disabled people. However, the term "disability awareness" isn't always understood. Here, we have gathered some useful resources for guidance.

Last updated: June 2024

1. What is the definition of disabled?

The UK government defines disability within the Equality Act 2010. It includes special rules about fluctuating disabilities, such as arthritis. They define a disability as having "a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities."

2. How you might be disabled

There are many different types of disability which include:

  • Physical (also referred to as 'motor'): where you might have reduced hand and arm function, mobility issues and communication difficulties
  • Cognitive: where you might have difficulties with understanding, processing and perhaps communicating with other people
  • Sensory: where your vision and/or hearing are impaired

AbilityNet works with clients who often have conditions such as a stroke, which has affected their physical abilities as well as their cognitive abilities, and has even affected their ability to communicate. It is important to remember that there are a lot of people who live with non-visible disabilities.

Do you need Disability Awareness Training?
Attendees of our in-house disability awareness training consistently note that learning about the lived experiences of the speakers makes such a difference to the impact and understanding of the course:
"Being able to listen to lived experiences of people was the most valuable for me, as it is only so much you can learn from theory and books."
"The panellists speaking about their lives experience was incredibly helpful and informative."
AbilityNet offers Disability Awareness Training in-house, online for individuals, and as an eLearning package for your site.

3. Disability statistics 

National charity Scope has useful figures on disability. 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also has some useful statistics about disability

4. Disability Models

There are many different models of disability

  • The Social model: disabled wheelchair users wants to get into a building that isn't accessible. This is a problem with the building and not the person. AbiltyNet prefers to use the social media of disability.
  • The Medical model of disability: this focuses on what is 'wrong' with the person and sees how it impairs them.
  • The Charity model of disability: is where disabled people are pitied by others who don't have a disability, and disabled people receive "handouts". 

Community activist Nim Ralph has written a series of blog posts on the Drake Music website explaining the models of disability. Mencap also has some information on the different models of disability in Easy Read format.

AbilityNet runs a regular free course Introduction to Digital Accessibility for individuals to attend online. You can also book an in-house session for your organisation.

Looking for Easy Read information? Check out AbilityNet's Easy Read factsheets. Topic not covered? Contact us if you need one of our factsheets in Easy Read. 

5. Disability rights

Disability rights in the UK are enforced by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). It can give advice to you as an individual and also provides organisational guidance.

For example, it can give you some advice if you feel that you have been discriminated against due to your disability. Employers and organisations are required, by law, to make Reasonable Adjustments.

An example of a reasonable adjustment might be that if an employee has a disability and they have targets to reach, these targets are adjusted accordingly for this individual due to their disability. For example, a social worker contacted us because she had difficulties reaching her targets. We suggested that she use assistive technology to help her and we suggested that she talk to her employer about lowering her targets due to the impact of her disability on meeting those targets. Both the use of assistive technology and the lowering of targets are examples of reasonable adjustments. 

If you need more advice on disability employment legislation, please visit the ACAS website. 

Digital Accessibility Legislation
If you're looking for up-to-date information about accessibility laws and what you need to do to comply, learn more about our legislation training course.
We also have WCAG 2.2 training available. Book now for The Essential Guide to WCAG 2.2 course

6. Language guidelines

It can be hard to know what language to use when talking about disabled people.

We always suggest that getting the views of people with a lived experience of disability is vital. We also say that it is important not to feel frightened about using the wrong word when talking to someone who has a disability. For example, blogger Sarah Ismail is proud of being a woman with Cerebral palsy, and discusses this on her blog. 

The UK government has some useful terms on its website relating to inclusive language. 

7. Accessibility 

Accessibility, when discussing disability, can have three distinct meanings:

  1. Accessibility Enabling access to a building
  2. Public transport
  3. Digital Accessibility - making your websites and other resources more accessible

8. Support and resources

AbilityNet can offer you support and guidance to make your workplace inclusive.  We can also help you if you want to produce accessible websites and e-learning modules.

Contact our experts for advice

Other resources include:

9. Personal Experience of Disability: "Nothing about us, without us"

Alex BarkerAlex Barker, who wrote this factsheet, is a Disability Consultant for AbilityNet. He has lived the experience of disability and brings this knowledge to his work with the charity. He has a rare condition called Moebius Syndrome which causes him to have a paralysed face and missing limbs.

He passionately believes that disabled people need to be included when working out how to support them. Hence the phrase "Nothing about us, without us." People with all types of disability must be part of the conversation as they have lived experience and can have skills which are vital to the workforce and can mould policy within their organisation to make it more inclusive. This is why he enjoys speaking to people about his experiences at work and how he has been supported to become a valued team member.

"Having worked for AbilityNet for over 20 years, I have seen the benefits of clients getting access to technology so they can succeed in work, education and at home. However, I've spoken to clients who are upset because they have come into contact with managers, lecturers and other people who sadly have a lack of knowledge about disability awareness. Being aware of some of the issues that people with disabilities might face is so important. 

"When I was at university and in my first couple of jobs no one asked me about my technology needs. This wasn't their fault because I'd always been able to use standard technology. However, everyone both employers and employees or students and educational support staff must be aware of the available support, and sadly that's not always the case."

"I don't have all my fingers so doing anything manual is difficult. However, technology is a real game changer and allowed me to study with my peers to get my degree. I was the first one in my family to go to university and I'm proud of that. I even managed to study abroad for a year in Sweden. I met my wife, Erin, online and she has the same rare disability as me, so it proves it brings people closer together. She lived in Lexington, North Carolina, USA and now she lives in Coventry, UK."

Alex is adamant that technology has helped him both at work and in his personal life. 

Learn more about physical disabilities from Alex via his training course available to book online and also via free sessions for some charities and community organisations with a donation.

10. How AbilityNet can help you

Workplace Services:

AbilityNet can support you in building a workplace that is inclusive by design and uses technology to enable all employees to perform at their best. Learn how to build an inclusive workplace.

Digital Accessibility advice for organisations

AbilityNet's Digital Accessibility Services help ensure your websites, apps and other digital services are accessible, usable and comply with current legislation. 

My Computer My Way

My Computer My Way is an AbilityNet run website packed with articles explaining how to use the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet or smartphone. The site is routinely updated as new features and changes are made to the Windows, MacOS, iOS, Chrome OS and Android operating systems. The site is broken down into the following sections:

  • Vision – computer adjustments to do with vision and colour

  • Hearing – computer adjustments to do with hearing, communication and speech

  • Motor – computer adjustments to do mobility, stamina and dexterity

  • Cognitive – computer adjustments to do with attention, learning and memory

Use My Computer My Way for free


Copyright information

This factsheet is licensed by AbilityNet under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. View a copy of this license at creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

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