Notes on the data: Disability

People with a profound or severe disability, All ages, 2011


Policy context:  The likelihood of disability generally increases with age, but can also reflect people’s life cycle, their changing environments and the risks they encounter [1]. Focusing on the age-specific prevalence rates of a severe or profound limitation, the peak in early childhood and school years may reflect the effects of early intervention services and the school environment on the identification of disability [1]. Young adulthood may see the onset of psychiatric disabilities. From age 35, disability prevalence rates increase with age, as risk of injury, including work-related injuries, becomes relatively high. Late working age years may also see the onset of musculoskeletal and other conditions such as arthritis and heart disease associated with physical disabilities. For people at older ages, limitations in functioning are more likely to be associated with diseases and long-term conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, dementia, arthritis, and hearing and vision impairments [1].

Community-based services provide support for older people with additional needs who live at home or with their family. Such services, if effective, enable these people to remain in the community - an important alternative to institutional care.


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Australia’s welfare 2007. (AIHW Cat. no. AUS 93). Canberra: AIHW; 2007.



The 'Core Activity Need for Assistance' variable was developed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for use in the five-yearly population Census to measure the number of people with a profound or severe disability, and to show their geographic distribution. A person with profound or severe limitation needs help or supervision always (profound) or sometimes (severe) to perform activities that most people undertake at least daily, that is, the core activities of self-care, mobility and/or communication, as the result of a disability, long-term health condition (lasting six months or more), and/or older age. Fewer people are reported under this measure as having a profound or severe disability as are measured in the ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). The reasons for this are definitional (the SDAC approach, which uses a filtering approach to determine whether the respondent has a disability, and the severity) as compared to the self-report approach in the Census; and the large not-stated category in the Census data, with more people not responding to this set of questions than are reported as having a profound or severe disability. While the SDAC figures should be used as the measure for this concept, the Census data are appropriate for getting an understanding of the geographic distribution of this population group.

Indicator detail

The ABS published figures are of people of all ages, including those living in long-term residential accommodation in nursing homes, accommodation for the retired or aged (not self-contained), hostels for the disabled and psychiatric hospitals: the ‘total’ figure in this atlas includes people living in these accommodation types, whereas the figure for ‘living in the community’ excludes them.

Note: Details of the total number of people with a disability - including those with a moderate or mild disability - are not available.



  1. People with a profound or severe disability (includes people in long-term accommodation), All ages; OR
  2. People with a profound or severe disability and living in the community, All ages

Denominator:  Total population


Detail of analysis:  Per cent


Source:  Compiled by PHIDU based on the ABS Census 2011 (unpublished) data.


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