Human function and disability

The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health describes disability at an individual or population level, and covers:

  • impairments – problems in body function or structure
  • activity limitations – difficulties in executing activities
  • participation restrictions – problems with involvement in life situations (WHO 2011).

Disability is best understood as a continuum – from having no impairment or limitation to the complete loss of functioning or ability to complete a task (AIHW 2022).

People with disability have lower rates of employment, incomes, educational attainment, and life participation rates than those without disability (AIHW 2022).

Currently, little is known about the prevalence of physical disabilities of people in prison. However, people with intellectual disability are understood to be over-represented in prisons globally (Hellenbach et al. 2017).

While the prevalence of intellectual disability in people in prison varies across studies, several studies have found that 25–30% of people in prison have borderline intellectual disability, and 10% have a mild intellectual disability (Hellenbach et al. 2017).

The NPHDC collected information about people in prison living with disability using 3 items from the AIHW’s Standard Disability Flag:

  • the ‘activity and participation need for assistance cluster’
  • the ‘education participation restriction flag’
  • the ‘employment participation restriction flag’. 

The Standard Disability Flag relies on self-reported impairment and restriction and does not require a medical diagnosis (AIHW 2017). See the Technical Notes for more information.