Alternative and related questions:
Do you have a disability of any sort?
How do you cope with your disability?
The meaning behind the question:
No hidden meaning. It’s a perfectly reasonable factual question.
It is permissible for an employer to question you as to whether or not you have a significant medical condition or disability. However, the Disability Discrimination Act generally prevents them from taking this into account when making their selection. On this basis, one might wonder why they have the right to ask you at interview and why can’t it wait until they have made a firm job offer? The reason is that an employer is only obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate such an employee. If, despite such adjustments, a candidate would still be unable to do the job effectively (as a result of their medical condition or disability) then the employer is nonetheless allowed to reject their application.
If you do have a medical condition or disability which you should declare then your aim should be to briefly disclose the nature of the issue and then go on to detail what, if any, adjustments would be required for you to undertake the role.
While it is uncommon for an employer to discriminate on the basis of a medical condition or disability, they may have concerns as to the changes they will need to make. If you are aware of state funding which may be available to support such changes then you can go a long way towards assuaging such fears. You should also reassure them that, subject to these changes, you will be able to undertake the role just as effectively as anyone else.
I am partially deaf in my left ear but I wear a very discreet hearing aid in that ear and this effectively resolves the problem. No adjustments would be required on your part to accommodate this minor disability. As you can see from my resume, it has no impact on my ability to get the job done.
Word of warning:
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the interviewer is asking the question we covered elsewhere “What’s your sickness record like?” That’s definitely not the same question as this one.