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 Australians with disability, and their use of specialist disability support services.

Indigenous Australians with disability

Among Indigenous Australians living in private households in 2015:

  • 24% (125,000 people) were living with disability—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
  • 7.3% (38,100) had severe or profound disability—meaning they sometimes or always needed help with daily activities related to self-care, mobility or communication (ABS 2017).

These estimates are based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2015 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. Recent estimates are also available from two other ABS data sources—the 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) and the 2016 ABS Census of Population and Housing.

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 7.2% according to the SDAC, 7.8% according to the NATSISS, and 8.5% according to the Census (ABS 2019; see that report for more information about sources of disability data about Indigenous Australians).

Based on the SDAC, in 2015:

  • disability rates for Indigenous males and females were similar (23% and 25%, respectively)
  • Indigenous Australians aged 55 and over had a higher rate of disability than those in younger age groups. More than half (58%) of Indigenous Australians aged 55 and over were living with some form of disability and 18% had severe or profound disability (Figure 1).

Disability can affect participation in education and in the labour force. In 2015, among Indigenous Australians living in households:

  • 46% of those aged 15 and over with disability had Year 10 or below as their highest level of education (compared with 36% without disability). This was an improvement from 2012 when 60% of Indigenous Australians with disability in this age group had Year 10 or below as their highest level of education
  • 33% of those aged 15–64 with disability were employed, compared with 65% without disability (ABS 2017).

The 2015 SDAC also collected information on experiences of discrimination. In 2015, 15% of Indigenous Australians with disability living in households reported experiencing discrimination due to their disability, and 38% had avoided situations due to their disability in the previous 12 months.

Use of specialist disability support services by Indigenous Australians

Specialist disability support services assist people with disability to participate fully in all aspects of everyday life (see also Supporting people with disability). In Australia, specialist disability support services are largely provided through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) or under the National Disability Agreement (NDA).

In 2017–18, nearly 16,000 Indigenous Australians received disability support services under the NDA (constituting 6.1% of NDA disability support service users whose Indigenous status was recorded).

Among Indigenous disability support service users in 2017–18:

  • 60% were male
  • 72% lived with family or others
  • 28% lived alone
  • the most common primary disability groups were psychiatric disability (25% of service users), intellectual disability (25%) and physical disability (21%)
  • of those aged 15 and over, 13% were employed, 61% looking for work (that is, unemployed), and 25% not in the labour force (for example, stay-at-home parents or people who were retired).

The number of Indigenous Australians receiving services under the NDA decreased between 2016–17 and 2017–18, from around 19,300 to 15,800. This was largely due to service users transitioning to the NDIS. The NDIS started in trial sites in July 2013 and started being progressively rolled out across Australia from July 2016.

At 30 June 2018, the NDIS was fully operational in New South Wales, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory. The stage of the roll out in other states and territories varied. At 30 June 2018, 68% of the eligible population in Victoria could access the NDIS, 49% in Tasmania, 29% in Queensland, 25% in the Northern Territory, and 17% in Western Australia (NDIA 2018). 

At 30 June 2018:

  • 9,255 Indigenous Australians were active NDIS participants, an increase from 4,515 participants at 30 June 2017
  • 5.4% of all NDIS participants were Indigenous (excluding those for whom Indigenous status was not stated)
  • in the Northern Territory, about three-quarters (77%) of NDIS participants were Indigenous
  • across the other states and territories, the proportion of Indigenous NDIS participants ranged between 2.3% and 9.6% (NDIA 2017, 2018).

Comparisons with non-Indigenous Australians

When taking differences in the age structure of the two populations into account, Indigenous Australians experienced disability, and used disability support services, at a higher rate than non-Indigenous Australians.

Compared with non-Indigenous Australians, Indigenous Australians were:

  • 1.8x as likely to have disability (2015)
  • 2.0x as likely to use disability support services provided under the NDA (2017–18)

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on disability and aged care among the Indigenous population, see:

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. Disability, ageing and carers, Australia: summary of findings, 2015. ABS: Canberra. Viewed 22 October 2018.

ABS 2019. 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 Feb 2019.

NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) 2017. National Disability Insurance Scheme. COAG Disability Reform Council quarterly report. 30 June 2017. Canberra: NDIA. Viewed 22 October 2018.

NDIA 2018. National Disability Insurance Scheme OAG Disability Reform Council quarterly report. 30 June 2018. Canberra: NDIA. Viewed 22 October 2018.

Alternative text for figures

Figure 1: Disability prevalence among Indigenous Australians living in households, by age and sex, 2015

This figure shows the rate of disability (all severity levels combined), and the rate of severe or profound disability, among Indigenous Australians living in households in 2015, by sex and age group. It shows that Indigenous males and females had similar rates of overall disability (23% and 25%, respectively), and of severe or profound disability (7.1% for males and 7.0% for females). The figure also shows that Indigenous Australians aged 55 and over had higher rates of disability than those in younger age groups. For example, the rate of disability among those aged 55 and over was more than 3 times as high as the rate for those aged 15–34 (58% compared with 16%), while the rate of severe or profound disability was over 5 times as high (18% of those aged 55 and over compared with 3% of those aged 15–34). 

Figure 2: Indigenous disability support service users, by age, sex, primary disability group, living arrangement, main source of income and labour force status, 2017–18

This figure shows characteristics of Indigenous disability support service users in 2017–18—such as age group, sex, primary disability group, living arrangements, and labour force status. In 2017–18, 60% of indigenous service users were male (9,518 people). The most common primary disability groups among Indigenous disability support service users were psychiatric disability (25% of service users, or 3,740 people), intellectual disability (3,695 people, also 25%), and physical disability (21%, 3,154 people). In terms of living arrangements, about 43% of Indigenous disability support service users lived with family, 29% lived with others, and 28% lived alone.