Data collection and publication - disability: guidance

Guidance for public bodies on the collection of data on disability.


The 2010 Act provides that a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

To promote consistency, the Scottish Government, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) worked on a harmonised suite of questions on disability for use in surveys in Scotland. The guidance, published in 2012, was reviewed in 2021 and this document sets out the revised guidance. Testing found a similar prevalence of disability for the recommended questions and Scotland's Census 2011, on which Scotland's Census 2022 questions are based, suggesting that these questions allow for reliable estimates between censuses.

The approach taken to develop the recommended questions followed the guidelines set out in the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (2001)[5], where disability is presented as a process bringing together medical, individual and societal factors in its definition. It recommends that the concepts of illness/condition (an attribute of the individual e.g. glaucoma), impairment (a reduction in physical or mental functioning e.g. sight loss) and disability (a restriction in activities and participation related to the interaction between functional impairment and the provision of supports whether personal, mechanical or environmental/societal) should not be confused.

Definitions of disability are largely centred around two conceptual models; a medical model and a social model. The medical model of disability situates the problem of disability on an individual's impairment, rather than on society's inability to provide for their needs, rights, and aspirations. The social model of disability scrutinises the environment and attitudes that disables the individual with an impairment.

This guidance note reflects the current development of a harmonised set of questions to produce measures of disability, and presents questions similar to those used in Scotland's Census and many UK Government statistics, such as the Annual Population Survey (APS), Labour Force Survey (LFS), and Family Resources Survey (FRS), all of which fall under the medical model.

The Inclusive Data Taskforce (IDTF) Recommendations Report (2020)[6] however, notes that survey questions are often considered outdated, including questions for collecting disability data, with those consulted calling for a shift from focus on the medical model towards the social model of disability.

The Scottish Government is committed to the social model of disability, and the collection of data based in that model is strongly advocated by stakeholders in Scotland. While there are currently no tried and tested questions in use in official surveys, work to provide a harmonised set of questions in line with the social model of disability is ongoing.

More information on the social model and the Inclusive Data Taskforce is provided at the end of this guidance.



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