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Disability can be defined in different ways, depending on the type and purpose of the data collection. For instance, definitions in population surveys on disability differ from those used to determine eligibility for disability-related support services or payments. In Australia, many data collections define disability based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), which uses ‘disability’ as an umbrella term for any or all of the following components:

  • impairments—problems in body function or structure
  • activity limitations—difficulties in executing activities
  • participation restrictions—problems an individual may experience in involvement in life situations.

Environmental factors influence the components above.

All the ICF components are distinct but interrelated. On the one hand, a person’s negative experience relating to any one component may be considered to constitute disability. On the other hand, a person’s experience of disability is often complex and multidimensional, meaning that all the components together may constitute disability. A person’s functioning or disability is considered as a dynamic interaction between the person’s health condition and environmental and/or personal factors.

The Disability Services National Minimum Data Set (DS NMDS) data guide provides technical definitions related to disability support services delivered under the National Disability Agreement.

The explanatory notes to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) provide a guide to interpreting SDAC data on disability.