4450.0 - Supplementary Disability Survey, 2016 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 30/06/2016  First Issue
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All


This report details the key preliminary findings from the first collection of the Supplementary Disability Survey (SDS) in 2016. The survey used an internationally endorsed set of disability questions and is designed to provide a measure of disability that is consistent and comparable across countries. In the SDS, disability refers to people with functional limitations who are at greater risk of experiencing reduced or restricted participation in society. The results are not intended to replace existing measures of disability in Australia which are significantly more comprehensive.

The Supplementary Disability Survey

The SDS was conducted for the first time in 2016 using a sub-sample of respondents from the 2015 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). The SDS was a voluntary survey that collected information about Australians aged five years and over living in households. It provides information about different levels of difficulty with basic activity functioning.

The SDS used a set of six questions developed by the Washington Group (WG) on Disability Statistics, a United Nations Group that was commissioned to improve the quality and international comparability of disability measures. The questions are known as the WG Short Set on Functioning (henceforth referred to as the WG Short Set). The results are intended for comparison with countries where similar collection has occurred.

Measuring disability

Measurement of disability in the SDS

The SDS questions focus on health-related difficulties experienced in six domains: seeing, hearing, walking, cognition, self-care and communication. The SDS collects details on the level of difficulty respondents have in these domains because of a health problem, selecting one of the following options:

  • no difficulty
  • some difficulty
  • a lot of difficulty
  • cannot do at all.

Using this measure, people with disability are those who report a lot of difficulty or cannot do at all in at least one of these domains. This group represents those who are at greater risk than the general population of experiencing restrictions or limitations in social and economic participation. The restriction or limitation may or may not have been alleviated by the use of assistive devices or by living in a supportive environment.

Measurement of disability in SDAC

Disability data for Australia is available from many different sources, such as population surveys, censuses and administrative collections. The ABS SDAC is the principal source of Australia’s disability prevalence rates and has released this information since 1981. This large specialist survey provides a comprehensive overview of disability, ageing and carers in Australia. It produces prevalence rates for the different severity levels of disability as well as information about the underlying conditions and causes of disability. The 2015 SDAC First Results show that 18.3% of all Australians reported having disability.

In the SDAC, up to 150 questions are used to establish if a person is restricted by disability and is in need of assistance. A person has a disability if they report they have a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts everyday activities. There are many aspects of disability identified by SDAC including loss of sight (not corrected by glasses or contact lenses), social or behavioural difficulties causing restriction, chronic or recurrent pain or discomfort causing restriction and difficulty learning or understanding.

Comparison of survey methodology

In addition to the different ways the SDS and the SDAC identify disability, there are also differences in the survey methodology. The main differences are the age, scope, respondent and interview method. Further information can be found in the Explanatory Notes (see Table 1.1) which also outline the differences in the application of the WG Short Set in the SDS compared to the standard WG approach (see Table 1.2).

Key results from the SDS

The following key results from the 2016 SDS refer to people living in households, aged 18 years and over.

In 2016, 6.7% of Australian adults reported considerable difficulty with at least one of six domains of activity; that is, either a lot of difficulty or cannot do at all. Using the SDS measure, these Australians can be considered to have disability and be at greater risk than the general population of experiencing limited or restricted participation in society.

Using the SDS measure, the following people are considered to have disability:
  • 5.9% of males
  • 7.3% of females
  • 1.7% of those aged 25-34 years
  • 42.5% of those aged 85 years and over
  • 5.3% of those living in state capital cities
  • 9.5% of those living outside of state capital cities.

The 2016 SDS also provides information about the difficulties Australians experienced in the six domains of activity. The WG on Disability Statistics identified that they form the building blocks for more complex activities and without the necessary assistance, can lead to restrictions in participation. Table 1 shows the proportions of Australians with disability across these six domains based on the application of the WG Short Set measure i.e. those who reported a lot of difficulty or cannot do at all.

Table 1. Proportion of people aged 18 years and over with disability(a) in the six Washington Group Short Set domains




Walking or climbing stairs

Remembering or concentrating

Self care


(a) People with disability are those who reported a lot of difficulty or cannot do at all.
(b) Components may not add to the total as persons may have had multiple responses.
Source: Supplementary Disability Survey, 2016

Recommendations for using the SDS data

Results from the SDS are different from other ABS disability measures, such as those in the SDAC and the Census of Population and Housing, and should not be compared. For more information about interpreting the results, see the Explanatory Notes.

When using the SDS results, it is important to consider the following:
  • The SDS results are intended for international comparison with countries applying similar measures.
  • The SDS used a measure that was designed for brevity, simplicity, universality and comparability; and to be suitable for countries with differing economic resources.
  • The objective of the SDS was to identify people with similar types and levels of limitations in six domains of functioning regardless of nationality or culture.
  • The SDS was designed to establish the majority, but not all people with limitations in the six specific domains; it was not intended to identify the total population with limitations or disability.
  • The SDS measure includes the most commonly occurring limitations in basic actions. These actions were selected as they most often limit an individual and result in participation restrictions.
  • The SDS does not provide a comprehensive measure of disability, partly because it does not collect information about people with intellectual or psychological functioning difficulties, or young children.

Next steps

Further investigations are taking place to identify the similarities and differences in the people identified with disability in the 2016 SDS and 2015 SDAC collections. This analytical work will be released by the ABS in early 2017.