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:
- prevalence of long-term health conditions
- health risk factors such as smoking, overweight and obesity, alcohol consumption and physical activity
- demographic and socioeconomic characteristics (ABS 2018a).
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).