Disability statistics

1 in 5 people in Australia have a disability. Find more statistics and facts about disability.

What is disability?

Disability can be defined in several different ways, depending on the context that the word is used.

However, disability is often defined as any limitation, restriction or impairment, which restricts everyday activities and has lasted or is likely to last for at least 6 months [2].

Disabilities can be very different person to person. They can be physical, intellectual, a mental illness, or sensory. They can be temporary or permanent, and can be there from birth or occur during a person’s lifetime.

Disability in Australia

  • In Australia, almost one in five people have a disability. Of these, one in three has severe or profound core activity limitation.
  • Over a third of Australian households have a person with disability.
  • In 2099, it is estimated that approximately five million people will have a severe or profound disability in Australia – more than triple the current number [1].

Support needs

  • Around half of people with disability use aids or equipment.
  • Roughly 60% of people with disability need assistance with at least one activity in daily life.
  • Of all Australians with disability (living in households) who need assistance:
    • 62.1% report their needs are fully met
    • 35.3% report their needs are partly met
    • 2.7% reported their needs are not met at all.

Incidence of disability

  • Every week, five Australians sustain a spinal cord injury [1].
  • Every week 10 – 15 Australians sustain a severe brain injury [1].
  • Every 13 hrs, a child is born with cerebral palsy [1].
  • Approximately 1 in 1,100 babies are born each year with Down Syndrome [3].
  • Every 7 hrs, a child is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder [1].
  • Every 2 hrs, a child is diagnosed with an intellectual disability [1].
  • One in six Australians are affected by hearing loss [2].

Disability and employment

  • The unemployment rate for people with disability is 10%; nearly double that for people without disability which is 5.3%.
  • 27% of people with disability work full-time, compared with 53.8% of those without disability.
  • Australia ranks 21 out of 29 OECD countries for labour force participation of people with a disability [1].
  • 25% of people with a severe or profound disability are employed.
  • 34% of people with disability who are working are managers and professionals.

Disability and education

  • 41% of people with a disability aged 15 to 64 years have completed Year 12, compared with 63% of those without a disability.
  • 17% of people with a disability have completed a Bachelor Degree or above, compared with 30% without disability.
  • 28% of people with a disability have a Certificate level qualification compared to 22% of those without disability.

Disability and financial circumstance

  • People with a disability in Australia are 2.7 times more likely to be at risk of poverty than other OECD countries [1].
  • 45% of those with a disability in Australia are living either near or below the poverty line, more than double the OECD average of 22% [1].


  • Almost 1 in 10 Australians with disability have experienced discrimination or unfair treatment because of their disability.
  • Young people with disability aged between 15 – 24 are more likely to report discrimination (20.5%) than those aged over 65 (2.1%).
  • More than 1/3 of women and over 1/4 of men over 15 avoid situations because of their disability.


  • The average age of a primary carer is 55 years.
  • Almost 2.7 million Australians are carers (11.6%).
  • More than 1/3 of primary carers are living with disability themselves.
  • The majority of carers are female, representing 68.1% of primary carers and 55.5% of all carers.

Childhood disabilities and developmental delays

  • 7.3% of children aged 0 to 17 years in Australia have a disability [2].
  • 52% of children with a disability have a profound or severe core-activity limitation [2].
  • Boys have higher rates of disability compared with girls, accounting for 61% of all children with disability. [4].
  • The vast majority (86%) of children with a disability who attend school go to mainstream schools. The remainder go to schools specially designed or students with disability [4].
  • Almost 80% of school principals report not having enough resources to meet the needs of children with a disability [5].
  • Sensory and speech disabilities are the most common disability types amongst children [4].

Mental Health

  • One in five Australians have a mental illness [6].
  • The most common mental illnesses are depression, anxiety and, substance use disorder [6].
  • 45% of Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime [6].
  • Women are more likely to have a mental illness than men (22% compared with 18%).
  • Men have twice the rate of substance use disorders than women (7.0% compared with 3.3%) [6].
  • More than 10% of people with a mental illness die by suicide within the first 10 years of diagnosis [6].
  • Every day, at least six Australians die from suicide [7].


Except where otherwise stated, data is taken from Australian Bureau of Statistics – Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings – 2015
[1] ‘Disability expectations – Investing in a better life, a stronger Australia’ – Price Waterhouse Coopers, 2011.
[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics – Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2012
[3] Down Syndrome Australia – Down syndrome population statistics
[4] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Young People with Disability, 2012
[5] Australian Education Union 2015 State of Our Schools Survey
[6] The Department of Health: 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing
[7] Parliament of Australia: The Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia