How the law defines disability, impairment and mental illness and the key laws a state and federal levels that protect people’s rights against discrimination and for employment, accommodation, education and other services are described. The types of disability, disability services, disability discrimination, advocacy and recent developments under the National Disability Insurance Scheme are covered, along with sexual offence cases and duty of care and negligence.


Michael Bevan

Lawyer, Mental Health and Disability Law, Victoria Legal Aid

Robbert Roos

Lawyer, Mental Health and Disability Law, Victoria Legal Aid

What is ‘disability’?

Last updated

1 July 2021

Disability is commonly understood to be ‘the functional consequence of impairment in the body or human functioning’. It may or may not be visible. It may be sensory (e.g. deafness), neurological (e.g. epilepsy), physical (e.g. paraplegia), mental, psychiatric, emotional, an intellectual impairment, or the result of an acquired brain injury.

Disability may be:

  • inherited: through genetic transmission or resulting from a genetic defect or mutation;
  • congenital: resulting from an infection, injury or abnormal development during pregnancy, or from an injury sustained during delivery or soon after birth;
  • acquired: as in a motor vehicle accident, or through disease or substance abuse;
  • of unknown origin; or
  • caused: by ageing, poor health, bad nutrition, environmental and social conditions, and/or individual choices, often extending over decades.
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Disability, mental illness and the law