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What is disability?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises that disability arises from the combination of impairments and barriers that "hinder...full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.". The impairments can include "long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments" whilst the barriers can be attitudinal or environmental.

Disability has long been regarded as a social issue, requiring social responses. A person with disability may need assistance - formal and/or informal - to fully participate in society. That assistance can be provided by families, unpaid carers, and/or formal services.

Services of relevance to people with a disability address needs corresponding to impairments or may seek to improve aspects of the physical or social environment in order to remove barriers and increase participation. Such services and assistance include:

  • formal services and assistance, such as income support, specialist disability support, and relevant generic services (e.g. health, education, employment)
  • equipment or environmental modifications
  • support services for carers.

Our role

The Functioning and Disability Unit monitors trends in the prevalence of disability in Australia and measures the need for and use of disability support services. This work is done in consultation with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the National Disability Information Management Group and other groups. Key disability data collections that are managed by the AIHW include the Disability Services National Minimum Data Set (DS NMDS) and the Younger People with Disability in Residential Aged Care Minimum Data Set. We also use a range of ABS surveys and other data sources to report on disability in the Australian population.

More information

Access to generic services is also important for people with a disability. More information about generic services is available in the following subjects: