4431.0.55.002 - ABS Sources of Disability Information, 2012 - 2016  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/09/2018   
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In Australia, the needs of people with disability are recognised in legislation under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) from 2013 has seen a dramatic reshaping of the provision of disability support services across the country. As a consequence, there is demand from many government and private agencies for statistical data about people with disabilities in order to provide targeted support services that effectively meet their needs. Although information on disability is available from many agencies, the ABS is the foundational source and custodian of some of Australia’s key population based surveys.

In recent years, an ageing population and a predicted increase in the overall prevalence of disability have been the cause of much political and social commentary with growing demand for disability data on a regular basis. The ABS has responded by ensuring that, apart from the large SDAC that is conducted every three years, disability specific questions (short disability module) have also been included in all recent ABS social surveys. In addition, the topic of disability (need for assistance) has been included in the past three Censuses of Population and Housing (Census).

The way in which information is collected has direct repercussions on the number of people identified as having a disability in any given survey. In the SDAC, personal interviews are conducted with every member of a household identified as having a long-term health condition that restricts their living in some way, with a large number of questions used to assess a person’s level of impairment. It is designed to estimate prevalence of disability at the national and state level.

The Short Disability Module is a short set of 16 questions which attempts to identify people with disabilities and establish the severity of those disabilities, similar to the SDAC. Of the surveys using the Module, SIH interviewed all usual residents in a household, the GSS and PSS interviewed one adult per household, and the NHS interviewed one adult and one child per household.

In the Census, information is collected via a set of four questions on the form, generally completed by one person on behalf of an entire household.

The table below provides an outline of the surveys discussed in the paper with a more detailed description of each provided in the first Appendix.

Summary of ABS surveys with a disability indicator

    Number of questions
Estimate of profound/severe core activity limitation (18+ years) (%)Data for which the collection is the recommended sourceLimitation in relation to disability measures

    Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2015
    5.4 0.2%
  • Prevalence of disability measures.
  • Labour Force characteristics by disability severity
  • Need for, receipt of assistance with activities.
  • Information on older people, people in aged care homes.
  • Conditions associated with age.
  • No small area estimates
  • Excludes very remote areas
    Survey of Income and Housing 2013-14
    5.1 0.3 %
  • Collects information on sources of income, amounts received, household net worth, housing, household characteristics and personal characteristics including disability status, concession cards held, educational institution attended and private health expenditure.
  • Incomplete range of disability severity categories
  • Age scope 15+ years
  • No small area data
  • Excludes people in health care establishments
  • Excludes very remote areas
    General Social Survey 2014
    4.9 0.5%
  • Social inclusion/ exclusion analysis of disabled population
  • Age scope 15+ years
  • No small area data
  • Excludes people in health care establishments
  • Excludes very remote areas
    National Health Survey 2014-15
    4.2 0.4%
  • Collects data on long-term health conditions, health risk factors, mental health and well-being, use of health services and demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.
  • No small area data.
  • Excludes people in health care establishments
  • Excludes very remote areas
    Personal Safety Survey 2012
    4.0 0.4 %
  • The survey collected information about the nature and extent of violence experienced by men and women since the age of 15.
  • Only asked of people who could be interviewed personally, omitting people with communication impairments.
  • Age scope 18+ years
  • Excludes people in health care establishments
  • Excludes very remote areas
    Census of Population and Housing (Census), 2016
  • Small area, small population need for assistance data
  • Comparison of Indigenous and non-Indigenous population
  • Analysis of Very Remote Areas
  • NT data
  • 7.0% did not report whether they needed assistance, meaning there may be some non-response bias
  • Only one disability measure is available (need for assistance); it is conceptually related to 'Profound/severe core-activity limitation'