Disability and health have a complex relationship. Long-term health conditions might lead to disability, and disability can contribute to health problems (see ‘Defining disability’). The nature and severity of a person’s disability can also influence their health, for example, by limiting access to, and participation in, social and physical activities. People with disability may also experience disadvantage or inequality in social determinants of health – factors such as education, employment, or social support – which may also affect health outcomes. For more information, see Social determinants of health in Australia's Health, or the relevant chapters of this report.

In general, people with disability report poorer general health and higher levels of psychological distress than people without disability. People with disability also have higher rates of some modifiable health risk factors and behaviours, such as poor diet and tobacco smoking, than people without disability.

This domain explores aspects of health for people with disability, from health status, and health risk factors and behaviours, to use of health services, and barriers to accessing health services.

Good health

In 2020–21, 31% of adults with disability rated their health as excellent or very good, compared with 68% of those without disability.

Psychological distress

In 2020–21, 33% of adults with disability experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress, compared with 12% of those without disability.

Daily smoking

In 2020–21, 14% of adults with disability were smoking daily, compared with 9.1% of those without disability.

Health conditions and disability

Having a chronic health condition is often associated with disability. In 2018, 78% of people with emphysema as their main condition had disability.

Cost as barrier to health care

In 2018, 7.6% of people with disability aged under 65 delayed or did not see a GP when needed because of cost.

Coordination of care

In 2018, 47% of people with severe or profound disability aged under 65 saw 3 or more health professionals for the same condition.

Reporting on health and wellbeing of people with disability for Australia’s Disability Strategy

Australia's Disability Strategy 2021–2031 (the Strategy) is Australia's national disability policy framework. It sets out a plan for continuing to improve the lives of people with disability in Australia over the 10 years to 2031.

The Strategy is supported by an Outcomes Framework. The Outcomes Framework is a key initiative under the Strategy to measure, track and report on the outcomes for people with disability across 7 outcome areas.

One of these outcome areas is Health and wellbeing. This outcome area is about making it easier for people with disability to get good health care and services when they need it. It includes 4 priorities with a total of 11 measures that are used to track what changes over time (6 of which currently have reportable data and 5 require future data development):

  • Health and wellbeing priority:
    • Unmet hospitalisation needs: Proportion of people with disability who reported unmet need for hospital admission in the last 12 months (10% in 2018; restricted to people with disability who needed to go to hospital in the last 12 months)
    • Self-reported health: Proportion of people with disability who reported excellent, very good or good health (68% in 2022), compared with people without disability (95% in 2022)
    • Community health care satisfaction: Proportion of people with disability who are satisfied with the quality of care provided by the allied and community health sector (future data development)
  • Prevention and early intervention priority:
    • Avoidable emergency presentations: Number of people with disability with GP-type emergency department presentations (119,500 people in 2018)
    • Medical facility accessibility: Proportion of people with disability with difficulty accessing medical facilities (GP, dentist, hospital) (14% in 2018; restricted to people with disability who have challenges with mobility or communication)
  • Mental health priority:
    • High psychological distress: Proportion of adults with disability with high or very high levels of psychological distress (31% in 2018)
    • NDIS participants life satisfaction: Proportion of NDIS participants who report feeling satisfied about their life in general now and in the future (47% in 2022–23)
    • Acute mental health restraint use: Rates of restraint of people with disability in acute mental health hospital services (future data development)
    • Involuntary hospital admissions: Number of involuntary hospital admissions (future data development)
  • Emergency responses priority:
    • Inclusive disaster management: Proportion and number of disaster management services that have disability inclusive plans in place (future data development)
    • Accessing emergency services: Proportion of people with disability reporting satisfaction in the accessibility of emergency, disaster preparedness and response information and services (future data development).

Note: the numbers reported in this summary box and on the Reporting on Australia's Disability Strategy 2021–2031 website may differ slightly from the numbers reported elsewhere in this report, due to different data sources and/or reporting periods.