Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) People with disability in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 25 September 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 Sep. 25]. 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 25 September 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/disability/people-with-disability-in-australia
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aged 15–64 who acquired disability before age 15 left school before age 16 (8.9% without disability)
aged 20 and over with disability have completed Year 12 (66% without disability)
aged 20 and over with disability have a bachelor’s degree or higher (35% without disability)
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Access to education and the level of education attained can affect participation in other key life areas, including employment and ability to achieve economic independence. People with disability are more likely to leave school at younger ages and to have a lower level of educational attainment.
Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers
Data in this section are largely sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). The SDAC is the most detailed and comprehensive source of data on disability prevalence in Australia.
The SDAC considers that a person has disability if they have at least one of a list of limitations, restrictions or impairments, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least 6 months and restricts everyday activities.
The limitations are grouped into 10 activities associated with daily living – self-care, mobility, communication, cognitive or emotional tasks, health care, reading or writing tasks, transport, household chores, property maintenance, and meal preparation. The SDAC also identifies 2 other life areas in which people may experience restriction or difficulty as a result of disability – schooling and employment.
The severity 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 grouped for mild, moderate, severe, and profound limitation. People who always or sometimes need help with one or more core activities, have difficulty understanding or being understood by family or friends, or can communicate more easily using sign language or other non-spoken forms of communication are referred to in this section as ‘people with severe or profound disability’.
Of working-age (15–64) people who acquired disability before age 15, more than 1 in 5 (21% or 85,000) left school before age 16, compared with almost 1 in 4 (23% or 350,000) who acquired disability after age 15 and 1 in 11 (8.9% or 1.2 million) without disability (Figure ATTAINMENT.1).
There have been improvements in school retention for people with disability over time – cohorts who left school in more recent years are less likely to have left school before age 16. Around 1 in 10 (11% or 12,000) people aged 15–24 who acquired disability before age 15 left school before age 16, compared with 3.6% (or 75,000) of those without disability (ABS 2019).
Figure ATTAINMENT.1: Proportion of people who left school before age 16, by disability status and age group, 2018
Column chart showing people with and without disability who left school before age 16, for people currently aged 15–24, 25–64 and all ages. The chart shows people who acquired disability before age 15 and are currently aged 25–64 are more likely (25%) to have left school before age 16 than those without disability (9.9%).
Source data tables: Educational attainment (XLSX, 165KB)
School retention for people with disability varies by remoteness. Of working-age people who acquired disability before age 15, more than 1 in 6 (17% or 47,000) living in Major cities left school before age 16. This is lower than for those living in Inner regional areas (31% or 30,000) and Outer regional and remote areas (36% or 11,000) (ABS 2019).
How is remoteness defined?
The remoteness categories used in the ABS SDAC are defined by the Australian Statistical Geography Standard Remoteness Structure (ABS 2016) which divides Australia into 5 classes of remoteness on the basis of a measure of relative access to services. Very remote areas are out of scope for the SDAC.
School retention also varies by disability group. Of working-age people who acquired disability before age 15, more than 1 in 3 (37% or 12,000) people with head injury, stroke, or acquired brain injury left school before age 16. This is double that of those with sensory and speech disability (18% or 20,000) (ABS 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 ABS SDAC broadly groups disabilities depending on whether they relate to functioning of the mind or the senses, or to anatomy or physiology. Each disability group may refer to a single disability or be composed of a number of broadly similar disabilities. The SDAC identifies 6 separate groups based on the particular type of disability; these are:
Around 1 in 3 (34% or 1.2 million) people with disability aged 20 and over, and 1 in 4 (27% or 261,000) with severe or profound disability have completed year 12 or equivalent. This was much lower than the 2 in 3 (66% or 9.7 million) people without disability in this age range (ABS 2019).
While the completion of year 12 for those with and without disability has increased in the last decade, this increase was not as pronounced for people with disability.
Whether a person has completed year 12 varies by age, with those in the older age ranges less likely to have done so. Among people aged:
These figures reflect changing patterns of education in Australian society where completion of year 12 is becoming increasingly common.
In the last decade, the highest level of educational attainment for people with disability has improved, but is still generally lower than for people without disability. For example, the highest level of educational attainment was a bachelor’s degree or higher for:
This compared with 35% (or 5.0 million) of people without disability (ABS 2019).
Data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research’s (NCVER) Total Vocational Education and Training (VET) Student Outcomes Collection and Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) Higher Education Student Data Collection and Graduate Outcomes Survey also have information on students with disability studying for a non-school qualification.
These sources define disability differently from each other and from the ABS SDAC. They also rely on self-disclosure of disability. Because of this, figures vary between sources.
Higher Education Student Data Collection
In this collection, students with disability are those who ‘have indicated that they have a disability, impairment or long-term medical condition which may affect their studies. It shows that in 2019:
Graduate Outcomes Survey
DESE’s Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) contains information on employment outcomes and salaries for undergraduate and postgraduate coursework and research graduates. Data from the 2020 GOS show that graduates from:
Graduate Outcomes Survey – Longitudinal
The Graduate Outcomes Survey – Longitudinal (GOS-L) is completed by graduates of Australian higher education institutions approximately 3 years after completing their studies. The GOS-L supplements the GOS by measuring graduates’ medium-term employment outcomes and further study activities.
Data from the 2020 GOS-L show for graduates from 2017:
Total VET Student Outcomes Collection
In this collection, disability refers to whether the student self-identifies as having a disability, impairment or long-term condition. Data from the 2020 collection found that vocational education and training (VET) graduates with disability were:
Almost one-quarter (23%) of graduates with disability who were not employed at the start of training reported being employed after training, compared with 39% without disability (NCVER 2021).
Data tables for this report.
ABS Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2018
Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE)
National Centre for Vocational Education Research
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2018) Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 5 – remoteness structure, July 2016, ABS cat. no. 1270.0.55.005, ABS, accessed 11 November 2021.
ABS (2019) Microdata: Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia, 2018, ABS cat. no. 4430.0.30.002, ABS, AIHW analysis of TableBuilder data, accessed 12 October 2020.
DESE (Department of Education, Skills and Employment) (2020a) Selected higher education statistics – 2019 student data: section 11 – equity groups [data set], DESE, Australian Government, AIHW analysis of DESE data, accessed 13 July 2021.
DESE (2020b) Selected higher education statistics – 2019 student data: section 16 – equity performance data [data set], DESE, Australian Government, AIHW analysis of DESE data, accessed 13 July 2021.
NCVER (National Centre for Vocational Education Research) (2021) Australian vocational education and training statistics: VET student outcomes 2020, AIHW analysis of DataBuilder data, accessed 11 November 2021.
QILT (Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching) (2020a) 2020 Graduate Outcomes Survey, QILT website, accessed 14 July 2021.
QILT (2020b) 2020 Graduate Outcomes Survey – Longitudinal, QILT website, accessed 23 August 2021.
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