Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020) People with disability in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 25 May 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). 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, 02 October 2020, 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, 2020 [cited 2022 May. 25]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/disability/people-with-disability-in-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2020, People with disability in Australia, viewed 25 May 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 similar criteria to that 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 1 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 1 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 SDAC are included in the supplementary data tables for comparison.
An estimated two-thirds (65%) of adults without disability consider their health as 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 through to poor. The supplementary data tables accompanying this section include data for adults, as presented on this page, and those aged 15 and over.
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%).
Health status NHS2017-18 (127KB XLSX)
In general, adults with disability rate their health as poorer than adults without disability:
There was little difference between health status of older (aged 65 and over) and younger (aged 18–64) adults with disability (Figure STATUS.1).
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. It uses a set of 10 questions 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.
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 group, including 18–64 years, 65+ years and 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+ (5%).
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).
According to disability group, 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:
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.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2018a. National Health Survey: first results, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2018b. ABS sources of disability information, 2012–2016. ABS cat. no. 4431.0.55.002. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2019. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Findings based on AIHW analysis of the main unit record file (MURF).
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