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.

What is ‘disability’?

Last updated

1 July 2020

Introduction to disability

Disability is commonly understood as ‘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 infections, injury or abnormal development during pregnancy or injury during delivery or soon after birth;
  • acquired: as in motor vehicle accident, disease or substance abuse;
  • of unknown origin; or
  • caused: by ageing, poor health and/or nutrition, environmental and social conditions and individual choices, often extending over many decades.
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Disability, mental illness and the law