In 2003, almost 115,000 students with severe disability attended mainstream schools rather than special schools, up from around 26,700 students in 1981, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
'This two-decade trend has created a demand for services to help these young people successfully manage the transition from school to adult life,' said Dr Xing-yan Wen of the AIHW's Functioning and Disability Unit.
'This includes entry into employment, post-school education, and other social and economic activities,' he said.
The report, Disability in Australia: trends in prevalence, education, employment and community living, shows that while participation in education has increased among young people with disability, the gap in labour force participation between people with disability and people without disability has remained about the same.
The overall rate of unemployment among people with disability has halved, but the fall in unemployment was even greater for people without disability.
Between 1998 and 2003 almost all the increase in employees with disability was in the private sector. In both the private and the government sector the number of employees with severe or profound activity limitations fell.
From 1981 to 2003 the number of people with disability who need help with basic daily activities of self-care, mobility, or communication increased from 453,000 to 1.2 million, and the number is projected to increase to 1.5 million by 2010.
"These increases were due to a combination of population growth, population ageing, and improvement in diagnosis and data collections and do not reflect a significant change in the underlying rates of disability,' Dr Wen said.
Between 1998 and 2003, there was an increase of 93,900 people needing help with core activities. Most of these people relied mainly on family or friends for assistance.
'But there were still around 71,000 people who need help with basic daily activities who had no assistance at all,' said Dr Wen.
The report notes a trend towards people with severe disability living in the community. The trend has been strongest for people aged 5-29 years.
'This shows clearly the importance of service programs to support carers, and to support the stability of community living arrangements,' Dr Wen said.