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At some point in their lives, most people in a population will experience a disability, defined by the ABS as a limitation, restriction or impairment which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts everyday activities . A disability can be considered in terms of the nature of the impairment (such as sight and hearing impairments, difficulties with mobility, or brain damage) or the interaction between the individual's health condition and their environment .
The main source of information about the level of disability at a population level is the ABS's periodic Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), which also collects information about a person's need for assistance with core activities. Information about disability among Indigenous people has also been collected in the 2002 and 2008 NATSISSs . Some information about disability at a population level is also collected in Australia's five-yearly censuses. Being based on self-reported information, each of these sources has limitations in capturing precise estimates of disability. This is particularly true for Indigenous people, whose level of participation in surveys and censuses is lower than that of non-Indigenous people . The level of response among Indigenous people in the 2006 Census to the questions related to disability was lower than that for non-Indigenous people. Also, some Indigenous people 'find the concept of disability hard to understand or irrelevant' (, p.532).20
Despite these limitations, it is clear that disability is a serious issue for Indigenous people: about 50% of Indigenous adults reported a disability in 2008 . The greater burden of disability experienced by Indigenous people is due to higher levels of morbidity in a range of areas (including mental health, diabetes, CVD, injuries, and respiratory diseases), as well as higher levels of socio-economic disadvantage .
The need for assistance with core activities generally increased with age for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in 2006 (Table 23) . The proportion of Indigenous males needing assistance with core activities was higher than that of Indigenous females up to 70 years of age, but the reverse was true beyond that age .
The need for assistance with core activities among Indigenous people varied with the remoteness of residence in 2006 . The highest proportions of Indigenous people requiring assistance with core activities were in major cities and inner regional areas (both around 5%), with proportions decreasing slightly with increasing remoteness (around 4% in both outer regional and remote areas, and 3% in very remote areas).
|Age-group (years)||Proportion of Indigenous people (%)||Proportion of non-Indigenous people (%)||Ratio|
|Source: ABS, AIHW 2008 |
More recent information – from the 2008 NATSISS – found overall levels of profound/core activity restriction were similar to those reported in the 2006 Census, but the levels for the younger age-groups were higher for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people (Table 24) . After age-adjustment, Indigenous people were more than twice as likely as their non-Indigenous counterparts to have a need for assistance with core activities some or all of the time (that is, have a profound/core activity restriction). The proportions of Indigenous people needing assistance with core activities were higher than those of non-Indigenous people for all age-groups. Higher proportions of Indigenous people required assistance with a core activity from a younger age (45 years and older) than did non-Indigenous people (55 years and older).
|Jurisdiction||Indigenous population (number)||Proportion of Australian Indigenous population (%)||Proportion of jurisdiction population (%)|
|Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 2011 |
The proportions of profound or severe core activity restrictions among Indigenous people were similar in 2008 for remote and non-remote areas (8.1% and 7.9% respectively) .22 The proportions of Indigenous people with a profound or severe core activity restriction living in non-remote areas varied slightly across the states and territories, ranging from 8.0% in Qld to 13.0% in SA.
The proportion of Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over with a disability requiring assistance with core activities (7%) was similar to that for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (8%) in 2008 .
Increasing the access to disability services for the Indigenous population is one of the priority areas identified by the National Disability Agreement (NDA), developed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to improve the outcomes for Indigenous people with disability . The National Indigenous access framework forms part of the NDA and aims to ensure that the needs of Indigenous people with disability are addressed through accessible and appropriate service delivery . Services include accommodation support, community support, community access, respite and employment services .
In 2009-10, around 28% of the Indigenous potential population23 used disability support services provided by the states and territories  (Table 25). The highest proportions of use of disability services by the Indigenous potential population was in Vic (62%), followed by SA (46%)  . The proportion of the Indigenous potential population requiring support services has increased steadily since 2007-08.
|Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 2012 |
20. In attempting to address these conceptual difficulties, there have been some methodological differences in collecting information about disability, particularly related to core activity restriction.
22. The proportions quoted here are based on a more limited set of criteria used to identify people with a disability, so are not comparable with the following estimates for the proportions of profound or severe core activity restriction in non-remote areas at a jurisdictional level.
23. The potential population refers to 'the number of people with the potential to require disability support services, including individuals who meet the service eligibility criteria but who do not demand these services' (, p.322).