This research summary defines disability and provides an overview of information regarding the health of people with disabilities and the underlying social determinants, using the population-based data that is available.
Approximately one in five Australians has a disability. Disability may occur at any time in a person’s lifetime or may be present from birth. Some disabilities may be obvious, while others are hidden.
Disability cuts across age, sex, race and socioeconomic background. Yet people with disabilities are rarely identified as a priority population group in public health policy and practice.
Despite the high prevalence of disability, Australian evidence regarding the health of people with disabilities is sparse. The Australian and international evidence that does exist shows that the health of people with disabilities is worse than that of their non-disabled peers across a range of health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, oral health and mental health. Much is known about medical conditions that can cause disability and this is well documented in the medical literature. Many of the health differences are, however, socially determined, rather than due to particular characteristics of the disability itself.
People with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty, have poor-quality or insecure housing, low levels of workforce participation and education, and be socially excluded or marginalised; they may also face violence and discrimination related to their disability and have difficulty accessing appropriate health care.
This report defines disability and provides an overview of information regarding the health of people with disabilities and the underlying social determinants, using the population-based data that is available.