The way people with disability are defined has been the focus of much debate in Australia and internationally. A prominent official, administrative definition of disability used in Australia today was codified in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Commonwealth of Australia, 1992). This Act broadly defines disability by describing the conditions that qualify someone as having a disability. It does not attempt to explain the meaning or concept of disability. The definition of disability according to this legislation is as follows:

‘Disability’ includes:

• loss of physical or mental functions, for example, a person who has quadriplegia, brain injury, epilepsy or who has a vision or hearing impairment;

• loss of part of the body, for example, a person with an amputation or a woman who has had a hysterectomy;

• infections and non-infectious diseases and illnesses, for example, a person with AIDS, hepatitis, TB, a person with allergies or who carries typhoid bacteria;

• the malfunction or disfigurement of a part of a person’s body, for example, a person with autism, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or an intellectual disability;

• any condition which affects a person’s thought processes, understanding of reality, emotions or judgments, or which results in disturbed behaviour, for example, a person with mental illness, neurosis or personality disorder. (Commonwealth of Australia, 1992)

More recently, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), ratified by Australia, defined disability for the international context:

Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in integration with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. (UN Enable, 2010, p. 4)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published a definition that has been widely adopted within the professions and healthcare internationally:

Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.