Disability statistics

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

What is disability?

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

Disabilities can be very varied. They can be physical, cognitive, intellectual, mental, sensory, or developmental. They can be present at birth or occur during a person’s lifetime, and can also be permanent or temporary.

Disability in Australia

  • In Australia, almost one in five people – 4.3 million – have a disability. Of these, one in three has severe or profound core activity limitation.
  • 35.9% of Australian households have a person with disability (3.2 million households).
  • The likelihood of living with disability increases with age, 2 in 5 people with disability are aged 65 years or over.
  • In 2099, it is estimated that approximately 4 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 to help with their disability.
  • Roughly 60% of people with disability living in households need assistance with at least one activity in daily life.
  • Most people needing assistance because of disability receive some help (97.4%).
  • Of all Australians with disability (living in households) who need assistance, 62.1% report their needs are fully met. A further 35.3% report their needs are partly met and 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 was 10.0%; 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.
  • There has been an increase in the proportion of people with disability working part-time, from 19.0% in 2012 to 21.1% in 2015.
  • 34% of people with disability 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 disability have completed a Bachelor Degree or above, compared with 30% without disability.
  • 28% of people with disability have a Certificate level qualification compared to 22% of those without disability.

Disability and the community

  • Most people with disability living in households (nearly 4 in 5) participate in physical activities, visit public spaces and engage with friends and family.
  • Social participation for people with profound or severe limitation is lower than those with moderate or mild limitation.
  • People with a profound disability are less likely to participate in activities outside the home such as attending a movie or performing arts event, going out with family and friends, or going on holidays or camping.

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 12 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].
  • In 2012, there were approximately 295,000 children with disability between the ages of 5-17 attending schools in Australia. Of these, the vast majority (86%) attended mainstream schools while the remainder attended special schools (schools specially designed to cater for high needs of students with disability) [4].
  • Almost 80% of school principals reported not having enough resources to meet the needs of children with a disability [5].
  • Sensory and speech disabilities, followed by intellectual 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 depressive, 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 and a further thirty people will attempt to take their own life [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