1200.0.55.001 - Disability Variables, 2006  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/10/2006  First Issue
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Contents >> CORE ACTIVITY NEED FOR ASSISTANCE >> Underlying Concepts


Name of the variable

5. The name of the variable is 'Core activity need for assistance'.

6. This variable has been developed as an indicator of the number of persons with a profound or severe long term disability. It is intended for use in self-completed collections as an indicative variable to be used with small area data; more detailed data are available from specialised sample surveys such as the SDAC.


Nominal definition

7. The variable 'Core activity need for assistance' is defined as:

  • a person's need for help or assistance in one or more of the three core activity areas, namely self-care, mobility and communication, because of a long term health condition

8. 'Core activity need for assistance' is an attribute of the counting unit person.

Operational definition

9. Operationally, 'Core activity need for assistance' is defined as a person's reported need for help or assistance in one or more of the three core activity areas of self-care, mobility and communication, because of a long term health condition. It is obtained by derivation either from the classification of 'Severity of disability' or from the responses given to questions specific to this variable. The result obtained is dependent on respondent perception of their need for help, and their interpretation of the meanings of 'help', 'supervision', 'difficulty', 'restriction', and 'everyday activity'.

Scope of the variable

10. The variable 'Core activity need for assistance' applies to all persons.


11. 'Core activity need for assistance' requires the supporting variable 'Age'. In collections which use the interviewer-based collection module, the variable 'Severity of disability' is collected simultaneously.


12. Extensive ABS testing has shown that disability is a difficult and complex concept to measure, particularly with a short question module. Also, there are quality limitations with any measurement tool and the Disability Module is no exception. The self-completed collection version of 'Core activity need for assistance' is specifically intended to provide a basis for identifying a target group for disability service provision, policy development and funding allocation at the small area level. Note that this is a subset of the broader disability population and should not be used as a proxy for disability.

13. There are a number of reasons why data on disability is difficult to collect with a great degree of accuracy. These include:
  • individual perceptions of disability, ie the relative effect on a respondent of both positive and negative factors (such as energy levels, optimism, pain or depression) at the precise time of the survey;
  • sensitivity aspects of disability, ie the willingness or ability of the respondent to report conditions such as alcohol and drug-related conditions, schizophrenia, mental retardation or mental degeneration;
  • the episodic and seasonal nature of some forms of disability, ie conditions which are episodic or affected by seasonal changes (e.g. epilepsy, asthma) and may not be apparent at the time of interview and are therefore not reported;
  • under-reporting, ie the need for help may be underestimated due to pride, or as help has always been received, or due to such adjustment to life with a disability that consciousness of an inability to perform a particular task no longer exists; and
  • inconsistency in benchmarks, ie the criteria by which people assess the difficulty of performing tasks may vary depending on whether it is compared with others of a similar age or with the person's own ability when the person was younger.
  • lack of awareness or knowledge, ie in collections where one person answers questions on behalf of other members of the household the respondent may not be aware of all the conditions that other household members have, or interpret the concepts of 'need' and 'difficulty' in different ways to the person for whom they are completing the collection form.

14. 'Core activity need for assistance' is a derived variable. The respondent is asked questions on need for assistance, and questions on the perceived reason for that need for assistance. The two standard question modules show that there are a number of different ways that question sequencing can be structured, with the consequence that it is not possible to reduce the full modules to component parts and collect useful data from those components. For example, the module for self-completed collections such as the Census asks questions on need for assistance with body movement activities, self care activities and communication activities separately. However, responses provided to these questions can't be regarded as providing meaningful information unless the follow up question on the reasons for that need for assistance is also asked. Responses provided to the follow up question are used to filter responses to the previous questions on need for assistance. It should also be noted that the questions in the interviewer-based collection module do not distinguish between the three areas of core activity.

15. The method by which 'Core activity need for assistance' is obtained is explained in the 'Derivation procedures' section below. To derive 'Core activity need for assistance' from the self-completed collection module the additional variable 'Age' is required. 'Age' is used to assess responses which indicate that the person has a need for assistance due to old or young age. The method by which 'Core activity need for assistance' uses the variable 'Age' is explained in the 'Derivation procedures' section.

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