Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Disability support for Indigenous Australians, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 29 January 2023.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Disability support for Indigenous Australians. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/disability-support-for-indigenous-australians
Disability support for Indigenous Australians. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 16 September 2021, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/disability-support-for-indigenous-australians
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Disability support for Indigenous Australians [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2023 Jan. 29]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/disability-support-for-indigenous-australians
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Disability support for Indigenous Australians, viewed 29 January 2023, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/disability-support-for-indigenous-australians
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People with disability may need help with daily activities—for example, eating, showering, or moving around. They may also need help to participate in social and economic life. To do so, people with disability may use a range of formal support services and informal care, such as that provided by family and friends.
This page provides information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, and their use of specialist disability support services.
Among Indigenous Australians of all ages living in private households in 2018:
The estimates of disability prevalence presented on this page are from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). They relate to people living in private households, not those in cared accommodation such as residential aged care. In SDAC, disability is defined as any limitation, restriction or impairment which restricts a person’s everyday activities, and has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least 6 months. Those with severe or profound disability are further defined as sometimes or always needing help with daily activities related to self-care, mobility or communication (ABS 2021). While the SDAC is the most detailed and comprehensive source of disability prevalence in Australia, it was not developed to collect data for Indigenous Australians specifically, and does not include Very remote and discrete Indigenous communities in its data.
Two other recent ABS data sources also provide estimates for Indigenous Australians with disability, but are not used in this snapshot. The first is the 2018–19 ABS National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS). As it is an Indigenous-specific survey, it is designed to generate results that are representative for the Indigenous population, and includes respondents from Very remote areas and discrete Indigenous communities. It is also useful in understanding rates of education, employment and other socio-economic variables for Indigenous Australians with disability. The NATSIHS, however, uses the standard Short Disability Module to estimate disability, which is not considered to as comprehensively capture disability as the SDAC.
The second is the 2016 ABS Census of Population and Housing (the Census). The Census is Australia’s largest statistical collection, provides data for the entire country, and is often used for service planning. However, the scope of the Census is large, and therefore it only collects limited information on disability—it only identifies people who need assistance with self-care, communication and/or mobility (equivalent to a profound/severe core activity limitation).
While each collection has different purposes and methodologies for capturing information about disability, their estimates of severe or profound disability among Indigenous Australians are broadly similar. For example, among Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over living in non-remote areas, the rate of severe or profound disability was:
Figure 1: Disability prevalence among Indigenous Australians living in households, by age and sex, 2018. This chart shows the proportion of Indigenous Australians with disability and severe or profound disability living in households in 2018, varies by age group and sex. 0–14 years: 11.0% with severe or profound disability, 16.3% with disability, 15–34 years: 4.5% with severe or profound disability, 15.3% with disability, 35–54 years: 6.4% with severe or profound disability, 33.3% with disability, 55 years and over: 17.9% with severe or profound disability, 53.5% with disability, all ages: 8.8% with severe or profound disability, 24.0% with disability.
Disability can affect participation in education and in the labour force. In 2018, among Indigenous Australians living in households:
Specialist disability support services assist people with disability to participate fully in all aspects of everyday life. This page provides information about two specialist disability services: those provided under the National Disability Agreement (NDA); and those provided as part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) (which has now largely replaced the provision of services under the NDA). There are also a range of other government and mainstream services that support Indigenous Australians with disability in Australia. For more information on the NDIS, NDA and other disability support services, see Specialised supports for people with disability and 'Chapter 7, Australia’s changing disability data landscape' in Australia's welfare 2021: data insights.
Data for specialist disability support services provided under the NDA are sourced from the National Disability Services Minimum Dataset (DS NMDS) held by the AIHW. The last year of data collection under the DS NMDS was 2018–19. For more information, see Specialised supports for people with disability.
Data for specialist disability support services provided through the NDIS are sourced from the National Disability Insurance Agency’s publicly released reports. The NDIS quarterly reports and data downloads contain the latest available data on the funding and provision of NDIS supports. However, these do not include comprehensive breakdowns for all participant groups, such as Indigenous Australians. Data on specific participant groups are periodically released in a series of special reports. As such, this page includes NDIS data from multiple time periods—from the NDIS quarterly reports and from a special report on Indigenous Australians (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants: 30 June 2019).
In 2018–19, around 12,000 Indigenous Australians received disability support services under the NDA, or 5.8% of NDA service users whose Indigenous status was recorded. Among these:
At 30 June 2019, around 16,400 active NDIS participants were Indigenous, or 5.7% of active NDIS participants whose Indigenous status was recorded. Among these:
Looking at the average annualised committed support of active Indigenous NDIS participants (that is, their support budget converted to a yearly rate divided by the number of active participants, rounded to the nearest thousand dollars) can provide an indication of the relative amount of support they receive (noting, however, that not all committed support may have been accessed or used by participants). Among the around 30,800 active Indigenous NDIS participants at 31 March 2021 (or 6.8% of active NDIS participants whose Indigenous status was recorded):
Indigenous Australians with disability in remote communities, along with their families and carers, can face particular challenges such as:
The higher average annualised committed NDIS support for Indigenous Australians in Remote and very remote areas compared with other remoteness areas could be one indication of these challenges. This also applies to the Northern Territory, as a significant proportion of the population in the Northern Territory live in rural, remote and very remote locations (NTMHC 2017).
Figure 2: Average annualised committed support and Indigenous NDIS participant rate by jurisdiction, at 31 March 2021
This chart shows the Average annualised committed support amounts Indigenous Australians with disability received, and the proportion of Indigenous NDIS participants at March 2021, varies by jurisdiction. New South Wales: $58,000, Victoria: $53,000, Queensland: $70,000, Western Australia: $83,000, South Australia: $74,000, Tasmania: $65,000, Australian Capital Territory: $56,000, Northern Territory: $159,000, Australia: $71,000. New South Wales: 7.6%, Victoria: 2.9%, Queensland: 9.3%, Western Australia: 7.2%, South Australia: 5.7%, Tasmania: 8.5%, Australian Capital Territory: 4.3%, Northern Territory: 49.8%, Australia: 6.8%.
Figure 3: Average annualised committed support by remoteness, at 31 March 2021
This chart shows the Average annualised committed support amounts Indigenous Australians with disability received at March 2021, varies by remoteness area. Major cities: $67,000, Inner and Outer regional areas: $66,000, Remote and Very remote areas: $109,000, All remoteness areas: $71,000.
Disability Support Pension (DSP) is the primary income support payment for working age people aged 16 and over with a disability who have a reduced capacity to work because of their impairment. At March 2021, 53,200 Indigenous Australians were receiving DSP, making up 7.1% of total recipients (DSS 2021a).
Carer Payment provides income support for carers who are unable to support themselves through substantial paid employment because of the demands of providing constant care to a person with severe disability, illness, or who is frail aged. At March 2021, 18,100 Indigenous Australians were receiving Carer Payment, making up 6.0% of total recipients (DSS 2021a).
Carer Allowance is a supplementary payment for carers who provide additional daily care and attention to someone with disability, severe illness or who is frail aged. At March 2021, 26,100 Indigenous Australians were receiving Carer Allowance, making up 4.2% of total recipients (DSS 2021a).
For more information, see Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment.
In 2019–20, 24% or around 1,560 of the clients in Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) with severe or profound disability who provided information about their Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status were Indigenous. Indigenous SHS clients with severe or profound disability had a younger age profile than non-Indigenous SHS clients with severe or profound disability—37% were aged under 18 compared with 28% (AIHW 2020b).
A person’s interaction with both formal and informal welfare support and services can help support their wellbeing. Informal (unpaid) care provided by family, friends or neighbours within the context of an existing relationship often complements formal (paid) services from government and other organisations. The demands of the role, however, often go beyond what would normally be expected of the relationship.
The 2016 Census included a question about whether people had provided unpaid assistance to someone with disability, a long-term health condition or a problem related to old age in the 2 weeks before Census night. In 2016, of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over for whom responses to this question were provided:
For more information, see Informal carers.
Indigenous Australians face increased risk of contracting and developing serious illness from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic compared to non-Indigenous Australians (Disability RC, 2020) (for more information, see Profile of Indigenous Australians).
Looking at the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Australians with disability specifically, however, is challenging as data on this population are either not collected at all, not publicly available, or not regularly published. In particular, while some data are available by either disability status or by Indigenous status, data are rarely available by both. For example:
Some indirect inferences about the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Australians with disability could potentially be made by looking at changes in the Indigenous disability population or at changes in the use of disability support services by Indigenous Australians. These data, however, would be difficult to interpret; it is not always possible to separate the data into time periods that would allow clear comparison of before or during the pandemic; and some data, such as SDAC, are not regularly available.
For more information on sources of COVID-19 data about, and related data gaps for, people with disability, including Indigenous people with disability, see Specialised supports for people with disability and 'Chapter 7, Australia’s changing disability data landscape' in Australia's welfare 2021: data insights.
For more information on the prevalence of disability for Indigenous Australians, see:
For more information on Indigenous participants of the NDIS, see the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA)’s:
For more information on Indigenous participants of the NDA, see the AIHW’s:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2021. 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability. ABS Cat. No. 4430.0 Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2019a. Microdata: National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey, 2018–19. Findings based on the use of TableBuilder data. ABS Cat. No. 4715.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2019b. Sources of data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with disability, 2012–2016. ABS cat. No. 4431.0.55.004. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 27 February 2021.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2020a. Disability services data cubes. Cat. no. WEB 143. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 16 March 2021.
AIHW 2020b. Specialist homelessness services annual report. Cat. no. HOU 322. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 10 January 2021.
Disability RC (Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability) 2020. Statement of concern: The response to the COVID-19 pandemic for people with disability. Viewed 25 June 2021.
DSS (Department of Social Services) 2021a. DSS Payment Demographic Data. Canberra: DSS. Viewed 23 June 2021.
DSS 2021b. Australian Government response to the Disability Royal Commission report on public hearing 5: Experiences of people with disability during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Canberra: DSS. Viewed 6 June 2021.
NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) 2016. Rural and Remote Strategy 2016–2019. Canberra: NDIA. Viewed 29 March 2021.
NDIA 2020. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander report. Canberra: NDIA. Viewed 16 April 2021.
NDIA 2021a. Data downloads. Canberra: NDIA. Viewed 3 June 2021.
NDIA 2021b. Quarterly Reports. Canberra: NDIA. Viewed 3 June 2021.
NTMHC (Northern Territory Mental Health Coalition) 2017. The provision of services under the NDIS for people with psychosocial disabilities related to a mental health condition. Viewed 29 March 2021.
PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) 2018. Engaging Aboriginal community controlled organisations in disability service provision in the NT. Darwin: Northern Territory Department of Health. Viewed 29 March 2021.
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