Commission on COVID-19, Disablism and Systemic Racism – Language and Definitions

The words we used to describe disability and race are important. The Commission has agreed the language and definitions as outlined below but recognises that any such term is problematic when attempting to capture the collective experience of any group of people. As such, the language we use will evolve and change.


We are using a broad definition of disability which includes all people with any type of impairment (physical or mental), including long-term health conditions. A long-term health condition could include, for example, diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease (CVD), Parkinson’s, dementia etc. 

This Commission adheres to the social model of disability which recognises that people are disabled by barriers in society that exclude or discriminate against them, rather than their impairment or difference being the barrier. Read more about the social model of disability on the Disability Rights UK website.


We have adopted the term Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic groups. However, the Commission recognise the many perspectives on language around race and ethnicity and will remain open and responsive to feedback. 

We also recognise that this term is inclusive of all minoritised ethnic groups including White minoritised ethnic groups such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, our primary focus however is on the experience of Disabled people of Black and Asian ethnicity. This is based on evidence of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on these ethnic groups and the distinctive history of racial discrimination within health and social care against these groups. While we recognise the existence of discrimination and corresponding health and social inequalities for other ethnic groups, we also want to provide a focused scope for the work to support clear and practical findings and recommendations.


Disablism discrimination or prejudice against disabled people. People, organisations and policies can be disablist.

Systemic Racism

Systemic racism refers to policies and practices that exist throughout a whole society or organisation, and that result in and support a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race.