Disability Prevalence and Inequality Measures in Australia

There is a great need for more consistent data on disability in Australia, particularly as the nation invests in some major social policy initiatives. This project identifies a significant problem, the quality and consistency of data on 'disability'. This issue is becoming increasingly important given major national and state disability reforms, such as the NDIS, that rely on data to inform care plans. This project addresses issues related to the measurement of disability. Specifically, it will scope how mis-measurement affects disability prevalence and describe how this flows on to influence knowledge about key economic outcomes for people with disability.

There is a growing national policy and programme investment in the health, social and economic outcomes of people with disabilities. However, different data sources use different instruments, and estimates of prevalence obtained from each source are inconsistent. Using our findings on the levels of inconsistencies in disability prevalence and inequality estimates, we will pilot an online data visualisation tool to disseminate our results. The tool will include descriptions of the disability definitions and instruments used and will help us gain a better understanding of the various and differing sources of disability data in Australia.

In recent years disability policy and services, in Australia, have been transformed. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and state and national-level disability strategies now mean that disability is a key focus at every level of Australian government. However, data on disability is inconsistent and of variable quality. Without agreed ways to measure and harmonise data to given definitions of disability, public health researchers are unable to evaluate policy reforms.

Additionally, there is growing evidence that, in order to reduce inequalities in health for people with disabilities, we (in public health) need to reorient our thinking about disability. There is now growing evidence, that the health gaps experienced by people with disabilities are not all linked to the underlying impairment. Rethinking disability as exposure, and building a solid body of evidence on the health inequalities experienced by people with disabilities in Australia, requires clear conceptualisation of disability and critical assessment of the data sources which capture it.

We will develop and test an interactive, online visualisation tool.  Importantly for future work, this will act as a trial for a more comprehensive interactive, online tool detailing health inequalities for people with a disability.

Research Team

Dr George Disney, University of Melbourne
Professor Anne Kavanagh, University of Melbourne
Dr Allison Milner, University of Melbourne
Ms Zoe Aitken, University of Melbourne
Professor Julie Simpson, University of Melbourne


University of Melbourne



Professor Anne Kavanagh


The Measurement and Monitoring Research Program is funded through grants and research contracts provided by a variety of sources, including Australian Research Council, Victorian State Government departments and internal University funding.


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