What is disability?

Disability is a broad term and covers people with physical, sensory (vision or hearing), speech, intellectual, mental illness and other conditions, such as chronic illnesses.  
 
Disability may be present from birth, acquired due to illness or accident, or come about with time as a result of age. Many disabilities are not visible, such as mental illness, diabetes or dyslexia and some only affect the person in times when they are unwell.  
 
A social model of disability proposes that what makes someone disabled is not their medical condition, but attitudes towards their disability, as well as the physical and environmental barriers they may face in the community. For example, a person in a wheelchair is disabled by their inability to get into a building if there are steps at the entry.  A person with a chronic illness who requires rest periods may not be able to maintain their employment without flexible working arrangements.

Disability in the community

Disability is part of human diversity. Over 4 million people in Australia, almost one in five people, have a disability and this proportion is increasing with an ageing population. A small snapshot of some key statistics include: 

  • 17.8% of females and 17.6% of males in Australia have disability. 
  • The likelihood of living with disability increases with age. 
  • 2.1 million Australians of working age (15-64 years) have disability. 
  • People aged between 15 and 64 years with disability have both lower labour force participation (53.4%) and higher unemployment rates (10.3%) than people without disability (84.1% and 4.6% respectively). 
  • 34% of people with disability are managers and professionals. 
  • Graduates with disability take 61.5% longer to gain fulltime employment than other graduates. 
  • Almost one in five (18.9%) people with disability aged 15-24 years experienced discrimination. In almost half of those instances, the source of discrimination is an employer. 

Source: Australian Network on Disability - Disability Statistics 2019