Disability is an umbrella term for any or all of the following:
- impairment – problems in body function or structure
- activity limitation – difficulties in executing activities
- participation restriction – problems an individual may experience in involvement in life situations.
People with disability who need support to participate in various facets of life can use specialist disability services, mainstream services (such as education and healthcare), and/or be supported by informal carers. They may also receive income support to help with everyday costs of living.
Australia's Disability Strategy Outcomes Framework
Measuring progress towards a more inclusive Australia
Disability is best understood as a continuum from having no impairment or limitation to the complete loss of functioning or ability to complete a task. It can be the result of genetic disorders, illnesses, accidents, ageing, or a combination of these factors.
Disability may restrict the activities a person undertakes in their daily life (such as tasks relating to the core activities of self-care, mobility and communication), or impact their participation in other ways, such as in social and economic life. How people with disability participate in everyday activities can also be affected by the nature of the opportunities and assistance available to them, community attitudes, and their experience of discrimination. The physical environment can also present barriers that make participating in everyday activities – such as shopping or attending an event – more difficult for some.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), nearly 1 in 6 Australians have disability – that’s around 4.4 million people. The longer people live, the more likely they are to experience some form of disability:
- 7.6% of children aged 0–14 years have disability
- 13% of people aged 15–64 years have disability
- 50% of people aged 65 years and over have disability.
Although people with disability participate actively in all aspects of Australian life, data show that they are more likely to face challenges than people without disability. In particular, people with disability generally have lower rates of labour force participation and employment, higher rates of unemployment, lower levels of income, and lower levels of educational attainment than people without disability.
At present, there are challenges in presenting a complete picture of the experiences of, and outcomes for, people with disability in Australia. Different data sources can define disability in varying ways depending on the type of data and the purpose they were collected for, and data from mainstream services rarely include a mechanism to identify whether a person has disability. The AIHW continues to work towards improving the quality and availability of national data on disability (see Links and other information for current work in this space).
National Disability Insurance Scheme
Specialist disability support services in Australia are largely provided through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS is jointly funded and governed by the Australian and state and territory governments, and is administered by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). The NDIS aims to help people with significant and permanent disability and who need assistance with everyday activities. The scheme is based on an insurance model, and each applicant is assessed according to a common set of criteria. NDIS participants receive a package of funding to buy the services identified in their individual support plan. Data on the NDIS are collected by the NDIA and are available on the NDIS website.
NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission
The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (NDIS Commission) is an independent agency established to improve the quality and safety of NDIS supports and services. The NDIS Commission is a national regulator for provider registrations, complaints, compliance with practice standards and code of conduct, and investigations of incidents of abuse or neglect of NDIS participants. For further information visit NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.
Disability Employment Services
The Australian Government runs the Disability Employment Services (DES) program which helps people with disability find work and keep a job. Data on DES are provided by the Department of Social Services (DSS) in monthly reports.
Disability Support Pension
The Disability Support Pension (DSP) is the primary income support payment for working age people aged 16 and over with disability who are unable to work more than 15 hours per week due to their impairment. People with disability may receive other income support payments, such as the Age Pension, Carer Payment, Parenting Payment, JobSeeker Payment, and others. Data on DSP and other income support payments administered by DSS are available in the DSS Payments Demographic Data reports.
The AIHW continues to work towards improving the quality and availability of national data on disability services (see Links and other information for current work in this space).
Other specialised and mainstream service supports
In addition to the NDIS and the DES program, governments in Australia also provide other services (specialised and mainstream) to support people with disability, including:
- the Disability Gateway, an Australian Government initiative aiming to assist all people with disability, their families and carers to locate and access services across Australia
- the National Disability Advocacy Program, which provides people with disability with access to effective disability advocacy that promotes, protects and ensures their full and equal enjoyment of all human rights
- the Information, Linkages and Capacity Building program, which provides funding to deliver community projects that benefit all people with disability, their carers and families
- JobAccess, a national hub for workplace and employment information for people with disability, employers and service providers
- the Australian Disability Parking Scheme, which helps eligible people park nearer to their destination
- Community Mental Health programs, which provide assistance to people with mental illness and their families and carers to manage the impacts of mental illness on their lives and improve their overall wellbeing
- My Aged Care website and contact centre, providing older Australians, their families and carers an entry point to Australian Government-funded aged care services for the general population
- the Disability Support for Older Australians Program (which replaced the Continuity of Support Programme), providing support to older people with disability who were receiving state-managed specialist disability services but were not eligible for the NDIS.
A more complete list of services and programs for people with disability is available on the Department of Social Services (DSS) website.
2 in 3 NDIS participants spent their free time doing activities that interested them in the fourth quarter of 2021–22
45% of people with disability (aged 20–64) had completed Year 12 or equivalent in 2018 compared with 37% in 2012
1 in 2 people with disability aged 18–24 were experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress in 2018
24% of adults with disability experience very good or excellent health, compared with 65% without disability
32% of adults with disability experience high/very high psychological distress, compared with 8.0% without disability
47% of adults with disability have experienced violence after the age of 15, compared with 36% without disability