Weekly Poll – Disability Commissioner Bill: Definition of Disability

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 11 July 2022, we asked a question about the definition of disability featured in the Disability Commissioner Bill consultation.

Please note that this is a snapshot of the views of our membership and does not reflect a policy stance of Disability Equality Scotland. If you plan to reference the findings featured in this report, please contact us in advance so that we are aware of this.


Question 1. How supportive are you of the Disability Commissioner role covering physical, mental, hidden and fluctuating conditions as defined under the Equality Act 2010?

  • Fully supportive – 67% (30 respondents)
  • Partly supportive – 18% (8 respondents)
  • Neither supportive nor unsupportive – 7% (3 respondents)
  • Not very supportive – 2% (1 respondent)
  • Not at all supportive – 4% (2 respondents)
  • Unsure – 2% (1 respondent)


We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Disability Commissioner Bill

A consultation has been launched by Jeremy Balfour MSP on a draft Bill to establish a Disability Commissioner for Scotland. The purpose of the Disability Commissioner is to work independently from the Scottish government as a “voice for the disabled community”, and to monitor the policies that are introduced to support disabled people in Scotland.

Definition of Disability

It is proposed that the Disability Commissioner will cover all disabilities; physical, mental, hidden and fluctuating conditions as featured in the definition set out in the Equality Act 2010:

“You are 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.”


The results of the poll revealed that 67% (30 respondents) are ‘fully supportive’ and 18% (8 respondents) are ‘partly supportive’ of the definition. Respondents who are supportive of the definition reflected on the importance of the Disability Commissioner covering a broad range of disabilities.

“It is vitally important that the Disability Commissioner covers all disabilities; physical, mental, hidden, and fluctuating conditions as featured in the definition set out in the Equality Act 2010.”

“I think this is a big bite of the apple of disability as a whole. It does have a holistic approach and I am in support of as much to be covered as possible, in particular the hidden and fluctuating conditions.”

“I am fully supportive of the Disability Commissioner covering these disabilities and are part of their remit.”

Hidden and Fluctuating Conditions

Some respondents believed that certain disabilities are often overlooked. It is therefore important for the Disability Commissioner to have a comprehensive understanding of the wide range of disabilities that are covered in the definition featured in the Equality Act 2010.

“As Mental Health and Fluctuating conditions are often ignored, if they are part of the remit of the Disability Commissioner then people know who to turn to.”

“I hope that the Commissioner takes fluctuating conditions seriously. The attitude of bodies such as the DWP towards fluctuating conditions is scandalous and getting help for these is long overdue.”

“Persons with hidden, or fluctuating conditions, need to have the confidence that the Disability Commissioner understands each criterion. Disabled people must be assured the Disability Commissioner, working independently on their behalf understands, not only the legislation, but each and every aspect of the difficulties disabled persons face each day in Scotland.”

“I am unsure about this because it is a very wide remit and mental health conditions are very different to physical disabilities. When applying for disability benefits, the system is set up for physical disabilities rather than disabilities caused by mental health. My concern is that a Disability Commissioner would do the same thing, prioritising physical disabilities over mental health disabilities.”

Sensory Disabilities

One respondent believed there must be an explicit reference to sensory disabilities featured in the definition.

“Although I realise that the list is not exhaustive, I do think that sensory impairment should have been included and must be included in the descriptive role of any Disability Commissioner.”


Some concerns were raised on how the Disability Commissioner would be able to ensure that all disabilities are considered when reviewing any legislation passing through the Scottish Parliament. To achieve this, respondents believed the Disability Commissioner may require a large support team. It is also important to recognise the additional pressures that may be created from the Disability Commissioner engaging with organisations that work directly with disabled people.

“I do have concerns about the workload they might have to carry and that things might not improve as a result. I would imagine that the Disability Commissioner would need a large support team working with them. Maybe they should have one person per local authority area to help deal with the workload that they will likely have, especially in the early stages of the post.”

“The definition is so broad that this will require lots of engagement and support from various organisations across Scotland. This may put extra pressure on charities. If that’s the case, what support will be offered to them? Who will fund this?”

Human Rights

It is proposed that the Disability Commissioner would work alongside broader reaching organisations that are currently operating within Scotland, such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission. Some respondents believed that the Bill must include direct reference to protecting the human rights of disabled people.

“Promoting and protecting human rights should be incorporated in this Bill.”

“We must protect disabled people’s human rights and I think it is important to explicitly reference this alongside the definition featured in the Bill.”

Social Model of Disability

The social model of disability is the understanding that what makes someone disabled is not their medical condition, but the attitudes and structures of society. Respondents suggested that the social model of disability must be embedded throughout the Bill.

“I believe that the focus should be social model based: what adjustments does the person need and are these reasonable to provide. That removes the need for someone having to ‘qualify’ as disabled under the current definition.”

“The Bill must follow the social model of disability – people are disabled by society and not their disability.”


The majority of respondents (85%) are either ‘fully supportive’ or ‘partly supportive’ of the definition of disability that is featured in the proposed Disability Commissioner Bill. Respondents acknowledged the importance of covering a broad range of disabilities, as outlined in the Equality Act 2010. Some respondents believed that certain disabilities are overlooked, and it is therefore important for the Disability Commissioner to have a thorough understanding of the broad nature of the definition. Concerns were raised about the level of support in place to ensure that the Disability Commissioner can engage with organisations that work directly with disabled people. In turn, support must be in place for the organisations that will share their expertise. Some respondents also believed that the definition should include direct reference to protecting human rights as well as being embedded in the social model of disability.