4431.0.55.004 - Sources of Data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples with Disability, 2012-2016  
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This information paper examines the different sources of data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The paper outlines the suitability of recent collections to meeting various information needs and aims to give sufficient guidance to enable informed use of the available data.

This paper focuses on comparative analyses of ‘Severity of Disability’ and ‘Type of Disability’ data collected by the ABS in a 2012-2016 reference period, and includes the following collections:


Collecting disability data can pose particular challenges due to the complex nature of experiences that affect the physical, social and emotional well-being of individuals with disability, and their families. The subjective and variable nature of some disabilities may mean that responses are affected by factors such as a person’s energy level, pain or depression at the time of the survey. Responses may also be influenced by the episodic or seasonal nature of some conditions and the sensitivities around conditions such as mental illness/deterioration and the need for help with personal care activities.

Further to these considerations, there are additional challenges when collecting disability information for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. These include different perceptions of disability, where the biomedical model and conceptualisation of disability may be culturally inappropriate1, as well as some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people choosing not to identify as having disability, for fear of experiencing further discrimination.


The table below demonstrates the following key findings:

  • The 2012-13 NATSIHS and 2014-15 NATSISS collect significantly higher ‘Total with Disability’ prevalence rates when compared with the 2015 SDAC. This difference is largely driven by higher rates of ‘No specific limitation or restriction’.
  • There are no statistically significant differences between the 2012-13 NATSIHS, 2014-15 NATSISS and the 2015 SDAC for ‘Total core activity limitation’ or any disaggregated items within this subtotal.
  • ‘Profound/Severe limitation’ data align closely between all household surveys and the 2016 Census.

Disability severity by survey, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People aged 15 years and over, non-remote (a)

2015 SDAC
2012-13 NATSIHS
2014-15 NATSISS
2016 Census
% MoE of %

Total with disability
29.4 3.0
45.6 2.4(b)
45.4 2.6(c)
Specific limitation or restriction
25.6 3.2
30.1 2.2(b)
30.4 2.3(c)
Total core activity limitation
21.9 3.2
22.7 2.0
24.1 1.9
7.2 1.9
7.7 1.3
7.8 1.1
2.1 0.9
2.6 0.7
2.7 0.7
5.3 1.6
5.0 1.0
5.1 0.9
14.0 2.6
14.9 1.4
16.4 1.6
4.8 1.7
5.5 0.8
6.8 1.1
9.1 2.1
9.5 1.3
9.7 1.2
Education/employment restriction only
4.4 1.7
7.5 1.3(b)
6.2 1.2
No specific limitation or restriction
3.5 1.3
15.6 1.7(b)
14.9 1.7(c)

na not available
(a) Living in private households
(b) Difference between 2015 SDAC and 2012-13 NATSIHS data is statistically significant
(c) Difference between 2015 SDAC and 2014-15 NATSISS data is statistically significant
(d) Proportion based on total which includes 'not stated'


The SDAC provides a more comprehensive measure of disability when compared to the SDM.

  • The SDM measure of disability includes people who report having a restrictive long-term health condition, who are defined in the SDAC as having a long-term health condition. This difference is largely driven by the ‘no specific restriction or limitation’ measure. Similar results can also been seen when comparing SDM and SDAC disability measures for the broader Australian population (see 4431.0.55.002 – ABS Sources of Disability Information, 2012-2016).
  • SDAC disability data for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is limited due to the SDAC excluding very remote areas and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities from the survey sample. The SDAC also collects a smaller Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population sample, which limits disaggregation of disability measures for this population.
  • Although the small number of questions in the SDM cannot replicate the comprehensive data collection of the SDAC, the population identified by the SDM provides an important indicator of vulnerable people within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population who feel restricted by long-term health conditions in their everyday activities.

The SDAC and the SDM (NATSIHS and NATSISS) provide closely aligned ‘core activity limitation’ measures.

  • The SDM and SDAC use similar definitions for measuring ‘core activity limitations’.
  • SDAC data is again limited due to geographic exclusions and a small Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population sample which means higher levels of uncertainty as the data is disaggregated.

'Profound/severe limitation' data from all household surveys (SDAC, NATSIHS, NATSISS) and the 'need for assistance' Census measure are closely aligned.

  • The combined ‘profound/severe limitation’ measure represents the population with the greatest disability and therefore the greatest need for assistance.
  • Disaggregation of SDAC data as well as NATSIHS and NATSISS remote/very remote data for ‘profound/severe limitation’ is limited due to small samples and associated high levels of uncertainty.
  • The Census is the only collection able to provide disaggregated ‘profound/severe limitation’ data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at small geographic levels. Users need to be cautious however as the ‘Need for Assistance’ topic only uses four questions to determine disability. The Census also has a large estimated net undercount of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and a significant item non-response to both the ‘Need for Assistance’ topic and the Standard Indigenous Question.


1 Gilroy J, Donelly M, Colmar S, Parmenter T (2016) Twelve factors that can influence the participation of Aboriginal people in disability services. Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin 16(1). Retrieved 12/12/2018 from http://healthbulletin.org.au/articles/twelve-factors-that-can-influence-the-participation-of-aboriginal-people-in-disability.