Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) People with disability in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 05 July 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). People with disability in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/disability/people-with-disability-in-australia
People with disability in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 05 July 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/disability/people-with-disability-in-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. People with disability in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2022 Jul. 5]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/disability/people-with-disability-in-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, People with disability in Australia, viewed 5 July 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/disability/people-with-disability-in-australia
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with disability rate their health as excellent or very good (65% of adults without disability)
with disability rate their health as fair or poor (7.0% of adults without disability)
with disability experience a high or very high level of psychological distress (8.0% without disability)
On this page:
One way to measure health is to ask people how they feel about their health, their state of mind and their life in general. This section looks at the health status of Australians with disability based on 2 common survey tools:
These indicate that people with disability experience poorer general health and higher levels of psychological distress than people without disability.
National Health Survey
The data used in this section are largely from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2017–18 National Health Survey (NHS). The NHS was designed to collect information about the health of people, including:
The NHS uses the ABS Short Disability Module to identify disability. While this module provides useful information about the characteristics of people with disability relative to those without, it is not recommended for use in measuring disability prevalence.
While the module applies criteria similar to those used to identify disability in the ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), it uses a reduced set of questions and is not considered as effective in identifying disability. In particular, it overestimates the number of people with less severe forms of disabilities (ABS 2018b).
The Short Disability Module produces an estimate of disability known as ‘disability or restrictive long-term health condition’. In this section, people with disability or restrictive long-term health condition are referred to as ‘people with disability’.
The NHS considers that a person has disability if they have one or more conditions which have lasted, or are likely to last, for at least 6 months and restrict everyday activities.
Disability is further classified by whether a person has a specific limitation or restriction and then by whether the limitation or restriction applies to core activities or only to schooling or employment.
The level of disability is defined by whether a person needs help, has difficulty, or uses aids or equipment, with 3 core activities – self-care, mobility, and communication – and is reported for mild, moderate, severe, and profound limitation. People who always or sometimes need help with one or more core activities are referred to in this section as ‘people with severe or profound disability’.
The NHS collects data from people in private dwellings and does not include people living in institutional settings, such as aged care facilities. It may underestimate disability for some groups, such as people aged 65 and over, and those with severe or profound disability.
The ABS SDAC also collects information on the health status of people with disability. It does not, however, for people without disability, so comparisons between people with and without disability cannot be made. Data using the SDAC are included in the supplementary data tables for reference.
An estimated two-thirds (65%) of adults without disability consider their health excellent or very good (Figure STATUS.1). This is not the case for people with disability, with only one-quarter (24%) rating their health as excellent or very good.
Self-assessed health status
Self-assessed health status is a commonly used measure of overall health in which a person is asked to compare their own health with others around them.
The measure reflects a person's perception of their own health at a given point and provides a broad picture of a population's overall health. It has some limitations, including being influenced by factors such as a person’s access to health services (for example, to diagnosis and treatment), and level of education.
In the ABS NHS, self-assessed health status is collected for people aged 15 and over against a 5-point scale from excellent to poor. The supplementary data tables accompanying this section include data for adults, as presented on this page, and those aged 15 and over.
In general, adults with disability rate their health as poorer than adults without disability:
There was little difference between self-assessed health status of older (aged 65 and over) and younger (aged 18–64) adults with disability (Figure STATUS.1).
Figure STATUS.1: Self-assessed health status of adults, by disability status, age group and sex, 2017–18
Stacked column chart showing 3 categories of health status for men, women and all adults, with and without disability. The reader can select to display the chart by disability status, age group and sex. The chart shows adults with severe or profound disability are more likely (62%) to rate their health status as fair or poor than adults without disability (7%).
Source data tables: Health status NHS2017–18 (XLSX, 129 kB)
Self-reported psychological distress is an important indication of the overall mental health of a population. Most (an estimated 70%) adults without disability experience a low level of psychological distress (Figure STATUS.2). This is not the case for adults with disability, of whom less than half (42%) experience a low level of psychological distress.
Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10)
The Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10) is a set of 10 questions used to measure non-specific psychological distress in people. The questions ask about negative emotional states that participants in the survey may have experienced in the 4 weeks leading up to their interview. Higher levels of psychological distress indicate that a person may have, or is at risk of developing, mental health issues.
The ABS NHS K10 is collected for people aged 18 and over, excluding interviews conducted with proxy respondents (where the selected respondent is not able to answer for themselves).
In general, adults with disability experience higher levels of psychological distress than those without disability. This is particularly true for those with severe or profound disability. For example, high or very high levels of psychological distress are more likely to be experienced by:
Younger adults (aged 18–64) with disability are more likely to experience a higher level of psychological distress than older adults (aged 65 and over) with disability (Figure STATUS.2).
Figure STATUS.2: Psychological distress (K10 score) for adults, by disability status, age group and sex, 2017–18
Stacked column chart showing 4 categories of psychological distress for adults with and without disability. The reader can select to display the chart by disability status, by age groups 18–64, 65 and over, or all adults, and by sex. The chart shows adults with severe or profound disability aged 18–64 are more likely (17%) to experience very high levels of psychological distress than those aged 65 and over (5%).
Disability group is a broad categorisation of disability. It is based on underlying health conditions and on impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. It is not a diagnostic grouping, nor is there a one-to-one correspondence between a health condition and a disability group
Looking at disability groups, the most likely to experience a high or very high level of psychological distress are adults with:
The least likely to experience this are adults with:
Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey
Data in this section are sourced from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The HILDA Survey is a nationally representative, household-based longitudinal study of Australian households and individuals conducted in annual waves since 2001. Members of selected households who are Australian residents and aged 15 or over are invited to participate in a personal face-to-face interview. This section presents cross-sectional analyses of the 17th wave (2017). In 2017 almost 18,000 people from around 10,000 households participated in the HILDA Survey.
The HILDA Survey defines disability as an impairment, long-term health condition or disability that restricts everyday activities and has lasted, or is likely to last, for 6 months or more. This is similar to the definition of disability used by the ABS Short Disability Module. In this section people who always or sometimes need help or supervision with at least one core activity because of their disability are referred to as people with ‘severe or profound disability’. Core activities include self-care, mobility and communication. People who have a disability but do not always or sometimes need help or supervision with at least one core activity are referred to as people with ‘other disability’. The HILDA Survey does not collect information on level of disability in every wave. The most recent collection was in the 17th wave (2017) (Summerfield et al. 2019; Wilkins et al. 2019).
Disability group is a broad categorisation of disability. It is based on underlying health conditions and on impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. It is not a diagnostic grouping, nor is there a one-to-one correspondence between a health condition and a disability group.
The HILDA Survey collects information on 17 disability types, which have been combined into the following 6 disability groups:
In 2017, HILDA Survey participants were asked to rate their satisfaction with their own health on a scale from 0 to 10. Ten represents the highest level of satisfaction and 0 the lowest (DSS and MIAESR 2019). In this analysis, people who indicate a satisfaction level between 6 and 10 are referred to as being satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their health.
More than 9 in 10 (92%) people aged 15–64 without disability are satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their health. This is not the case for people with disability, with only 6 in 10 (59%) being satisfied or somewhat satisfied. Of people with disability aged 15–64:
Data tables for this report.
ABS Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2018.
ABS National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18 and ABS NHS user guide.
The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 17.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2018a) National Health Survey: first results, 2017–18, ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001, ABS, accessed 11 May 2020.
ABS (2018b) ABS sources of disability information, 2012–2016, ABS cat. no. 4431.0.55.002, ABS, accessed 4 August 2021.
ABS (2019) Microdata: National Health Survey, 2017–18, ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001, ABS, AIHW analysis of the main unit record file (MURF), accessed 12 June 2020.
DSS (Department of Social Services) and MIAESR (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic Social Research) (2019) The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, general release 18 (wave 17), doi:10.26193/IYBXHM, ADA Dataverse, AIHW analysis of unit record data, accessed 3 December 2021.
Summerfield M, Bright S, Hahn M, La N, Macalalad N, Watson N, Wilkins R and Wooden M (2019) HILDA user manual – Release 18, Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne, accessed 10 September 2021.
Wilkins R, Laß I, Butterworth P & Vera-Toscano E (2019) The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: selected findings from Waves 1 to 17, Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne, accessed 10 September 2021.
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