The diverse experiences of more than four million Australians living with disability is the subject of a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, People with disability in Australia, brings together information from a range of major data sources to enhance the picture of what is known about people with disability in Australia. It covers multiple life areas such as education, health, social support and employment.

AIHW spokesperson Louise York said about 4.3 million (nearly 1 in 5) Australians have some level of disability and 51 per cent of older people aged 65 and over are living with disability.

“Knowing how many Australians have disability, and their characteristics, can improve our understanding of how the experiences of people with disability vary,” she said. “It can also help with the planning and provision of supports and services that enable people with disability to participate fully in everyday life.”

Through existing data, the AIHW have established some key characteristics and issues, for example:

  • For 4 in 5 people with disability, their main form of disability is physical—such as back problems, hearing loss, stroke, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. For the remaining 1 in 5 people, their main form of disability is mental or behavioural—such as intellectual disability, dementia, anxiety and depression.
  • Almost 1 in 3 (32 per cent) people with disability have severe or profound disability.
  • Two fifths (42 per cent) of Australians with disability rate their health as ‘fair or poor’, compared with 7 per cent for those without disability.
  • Most (87 per cent) people with disability who need formal assistance with at least one activity receive some support. The majority of these are satisfied with the quality of service (85 per cent) and the range of services available (74 per cent).

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) receives more complaints about disability discrimination each year than about any other form of discrimination.

“People who have experienced disability discrimination are more likely to report poor health, be unemployed and have a lower level of income,” York said.

This is the AIHW’s first comprehensive report on the experiences of people with disability in Australia. It highlights the need for a deeper understanding of the issues facing people with disability and offers suggestions to help fill information gaps.

“People with disability have varied needs for mainstream and specialist disability services,” York said. “A relatively small proportion of this group will participate in the National Disability Insurance Scheme or receive the Disability Support Pension but all will come into contact with mainstream services. A key gap is information about what services people with disability use, across mainstream and specialist areas, and how coordinated, timely and effective they are.”

To view the full report, visit

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