What is Permanent Disability?

Medical and Social Disability Models

There are two common ways of looking at what disability is.

Disability Medical Model: This model of disability says people are disabled by their impairments. From this perspective, disability covers a broad range and degree of conditions, some visible and some not visible. A disability may have been present from birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time. There are physical, mental, cognitive and learning disabilities, mental disorders, hearing or vision disabilities, epilepsy, drug and alcohol dependencies, environmental sensitivities and other conditions.

Disability Social Model: The social model of disability was developed by people with disabilities in the 1970s and 1980s. It came as a reaction to the medical model of disability which had been widely agreed with at the time. An alternative model of looking at disability is that it is not something a person has. A person with a medical condition is not necessarily prevented (or disabled) from fully taking part in society. If society is designed to be accessible and include everyone, then people with medical conditions often do not have a problem taking part. From this point of view, disability is a problem that occurs when a person’s environment is not designed to suit their abilities. This model encourages us to look at ways of preventing or identifying and removing barriers so that everyone is afforded equal opportunity to fully participate in their environment.

Total and Permanent Disability Definitions around the world

The definition of Disability is slightly different depends on different countries. The most accepted definition is from WHO.

Disability Definition from WHO (World Health Organization)

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.

Disability Definition in the United States

The term “disability” is defined by the federal government in various ways, depending on the context. For the purposes of federal disability nondiscrimination laws (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 188 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act), the definition of a person with a disability is typically defined as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities,” (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the nation’s primary disability nondiscrimination law. One part, Title I, addresses employment, while other parts address issues such as state and local government services and employment, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications. In 2008, the ADA was amended and thus is referred as the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) in certain contexts.

Disability Definition in Canada

Disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and mind and features of the society in which they live. A disability can occur at any time in a person’s life; some people are born with a disability, while others develop a disability later in life. It can be permanent, temporary or episodic. Disability can steadily worsen, remain the same, or improve. It can be very mild to very severe. It can be the cause, as well as the result, of disease, illness, injury, or substance abuse. Because of its complexity, there is no single, harmonized “operational” definition of disability across federal programs. Reflecting this complexity are the different approaches to understanding the experience of disability.

The most common types of disabilities among adults are pain-, mobility-, and agility-related disabilities. These three types of disability increased significantly from 2001 to 2006, which is partially attributable to a growing percentage of seniors reporting these disabilities relative to the total population. According to the traditional, bio-medical approach, disability is viewed as a medical or health problem that prevents or reduces a person’s ability to participate fully in society.

In contrast, the social approach views disability as a natural part of society, where attitudes, stigma and prejudices present barriers to people with disabilities, and prevent or hinder their participation in mainstream society.

Permanent Disability Definition in Australia

Persons are considered to have a disability if they  have a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts everyday activities.

Permanent Disability Definition in the United Kingdom (UK)

In UK, You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

This means that, in general:
• the person must have an impairment that is either physical or

The definition requires that the effects which a person may experience
must arise from a physical or mental impairment. The term mental or physical impairment should be given its ordinary meaning. It is not necessary for the cause of the impairment to be established, nor does
the impairment have to be the result of an illness. In many cases, there will be no dispute whether a person has an impairment. Any disagreement is more likely to be about whether the effects of the impairment are sufficient to fall within the definition and in particular whether they are long-term. Even so, it may sometimes be necessary to decide whether a person has an impairment so as to be able to deal with the issues about its effects.

  • the impairment must have adverse effects which are substantial;
  • the substantial adverse effects must be long-term;
  • the long-term substantial adverse effects must be effects on normal day-to-day activities.

Different types of Permanent Disabilities

A disability can arise from a wide range of impairments which can be: sensory impairments, such as those affecting sight or hearing; impairments with fluctuating or recurring effects such as rheumatoid arthritis, myalgic encephalitis (ME), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, depression and epilepsy; progressive, such as motor neurone disease, muscular dystrophy, and forms of dementia; auto-immune conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE); organ-specific, including respiratory conditions, such as asthma, and cardiovascular diseases, including thrombosis, stroke and heart disease; developmental, such as autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), dyslexia and dyspraxia; learning disabilities; mental health conditions with symptoms such as anxiety, low mood, panic attacks, phobias, or unshared perceptions; eating disorders; bipolar affective disorders; obsessive-compulsive disorders; personality disorders; post-traumatic stress disorder, and some self-harming behaviour; mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia; produced by injury to the body, including to the brain.

Sensory Disability Definition

  • loss of sight (not corrected by glasses or contact lenses)
  • loss of hearing where communication is restricted, or an aid to assist with, or substitute for, hearing is used
  • speech difficulties.

Intellectual Disability Definition

  • difficulty learning or understanding things.

Physical Disability Definition

  • shortness of breath or breathing difficulties that restrict everyday activities
  • blackouts, seizures or loss of consciousness
  • chronic or recurrent pain or discomfort that restricts everyday activities
  • incomplete use of arms or fingers
  • difficulty gripping or holding things
  • incomplete use of feet or legs
  • restriction in physical activities or in doing physical work
  • disfigurement or deformity.

Psychosocial Disability Definition

  • nervous or emotional condition that restricts everyday activities
  • mental illness or condition requiring help or supervision
  • memory problems or periods of confusion that restrict everyday activities
  • social or behavioural difficulties that restrict everyday activities.

Head injury, stroke or acquired brain injury Disability Definition

  • head injury, stroke or other acquired brain injury, with long-term effects that restrict everyday activities.

Other Disabilities

  • receiving treatment or medication for any other long-term conditions or ailments and still restricted in everyday activities
  • any other long-term conditions resulting in a restriction in everyday activities.

What Is Total Permanent Disability?

Total permanent disability (TPD) is a condition in which an individual is no longer able to work due to injuries. Total permanent disability, also called permanent total disability, applies to cases in which the individual may never be able to work again.

What are Common and different types of Permanent Disabilities?

  • Sensory Disability
  • Head injury, stroke or acquired brain injury Disability
  • Psychosocial Disability
  • Physical Disability
  • Intellectual Disability

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About the author

Susanne Ricee

Susanne Ricee is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist and Researcher at Diversity for Social Impact. Sue brings over 15 years of HR and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion consultation experience.
Sue's previous experience includes Microsoft, Target, and Kraft. Sue is also the manager of Diversity Leadership Directory