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Degree of Disability



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The World Health Organization defines disability as a condition that restricts a person from undertaking or performing everyday activity normally. While physical disability might be the most common type, the category of disabilities is broad. It includes sensory, neurological, cognitive, intellectual and psychiatric disabilities.

These types of disabilities may be permanent, temporary or reversible and affect individuals in different ways. These conditions go beyond just health problems. They as well encompass activity and social-interaction limitations.

While the type and degree of disability is different to each individual, we cannot rule out the fact that all types of disability have a major impact on the life of the person concerned.


However, with the right assistance, interventions and adequate services, these restrictions or difficulties experienced can be minimized. That’s where the degree of disability comes in. It helps to precisely define the extent to which disability affects the autonomy of a person so as to avail the necessary tools and services.

What is Degree of Disability and who determines it?

The degree of disability is an assessment that determines how disabled an individual is from both medical and social perspective (social factors that may limit their social integration). It is expressed in percentages and adheres to the technical criteria put in place by the government.

Determining and certifying the degree of disability of a person involves a number of parties. In general, they are known as Assessment and Guidance Teams which may include a doctor, a psychologist and a social assistant.

From the medical perspective, these EVOs asses the physical, sensory and psychic state of a person. Because other factors apart from health problems are considered in order to establish the degree of disability, the Institute of Migrations and Social Services through their different associated institutions are also involved in the certification of the degree of disability.

These Autonomous communities also monitor and conduct periodic reviews of this degree of disability in case they expect possible changes. However, this takes place two years after the first diagnosis.

From the legal perspective, the worker’s compensation (WC) judge through medical evidence presented determines the disability rating of the individual concerned. The procedure adhered to in the recognition, declaration and certification of the degree of disability is included in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986.

How is the degree of disability determined?

The main aim of degree of disability is to objectively asses how disability influence the autonomy of an individual - by autonomy here I mean all aspects of life from health, to personal life, education, communication and, most importantly, accessibility.  When it comes to measuring the degree of disability, the Barthel index is one of the most applicable methods.

The index assesses the level of independence of a person with respect to performing some basic activities of daily living (ADL), the time spent in performing these activities and the need for help. The original index had ten ADLs which includes:  

  • Feeding 
  • Walking on a smooth surface or in a wheelchair
  • Moving between the chair and the bed
  • Moving up and down the stairs
  • Grooming
  • Bathing or taking a Shower
  • Toilet use
  • Bladder control  
  • Bowels control

In later revisions, more ADLs were added. The scale of measurement ranges from 0 to 100.   

In essence, the Barthel index of the activities of daily living (ADL) communicates to other health professionals the degree of disability of a particular individual. Besides being compatible with other valuations, the Barthel Index is actually a simple measure that allows the detection of changes and evolutions in the disability of a person with a high degree of reliability and validity.

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Generally, determining the degree of disability is a much complex process that’s why two valuations are always carried out. The Barthel index, covering limitations of activity, and the other being complementary Social factors.

Rights it affords to Disabled People

The degree of disability is a very important number, especially when it comes to workers’ compensation. Since it explains the percentage of disability from the medical perspective while taking the autonomy of the concerned individual into consideration, that number is used to determine payments, services or benefits one will receive to ensure their quality of life is good.

For those who become disabled while at work, the degree of disability helps to determine how much they will receive every week from the workers’ compensation.

Difference between Permanent and Temporary Disabilities

According to Australian regulations on the definition of disability, a person is considered disabled when the degree of disability is at least 20% on the impairment tables and is unable to continue working 30 hours or more per week or be re-skilled for work at full wages within the next two years.

When you are first injured and after assessment it is found that the situation is not permanent and might change, a temporary degree of disability is established. This is considered as temporary disability and you get compensation according to your percentage of degree of disability up to a period of two years.

As you continue to get better, this percentage decreases, so after the two years elapses, you will be summoned to take another assessment. 

When after assessment the injury sustained is found to completely affect your ability to return to work or when the two years have elapsed and after assessment it’s found out that you are not going to get any better, that is, you’ve reached the ““Maximum Medical Improvement” (MMI), a permanent degree of disability may be established. In other words, permanent disability means that your level of disability is not expected to change over time.

All in all, no matter the type of disability, conducting degree of disability assessment is vital to ensuring that people with disability get fair compensation, assistance and benefits that will see them enjoy the same quality of life like those without disability.

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