|Documentation for the Workshop /
Country Papers : Australia
Survey and census sources of national disability data
1. Overview of survey or census
- Title of survey or census
Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers
- Date of latest data collection
1998 and currently being collected in 2003. Previous surveys have been conducted
in 1981, 1988, and 1993.
- Periodicity of survey or census (continuous, annual, ad hoc, 10 or 5
yearly in case of census etc.)
Planned to be 6 yearly from 2003 onwards.
- Contact person(s) for the survey/census (include title, office mail
address, phone, fax, email, website, etc.)
Family and Community Statistics section
ABS, Locked Bag 10
Belconnen ACT 2616
Ph 02 6262 7430
Fax 02 6252 8007
e-mail ken.black @ abs.gov.au
2. Brief summary of survey or census
- Describe what information on disability is collected
The survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers is the principle source of
information on people with disabilities, older persons, and those who provide care to
people because of their disability. It collects information on 3 population groups: people
aged 60 and over, people with disabilities and their carers. There are other sources of
information about services provided to these groups, but this survey is the only source of
information on the assistance requirements of those groups, the extent to which these
requirements are met, and the characteristics of those with unmet need. It also provides
information on participation in economic and community activities. The survey is the major
source of national statistics on carers and primary carers: numbers and characteristics of
carers, care relationships, activities for which informal care is provided, and, for
primary carers, support available and required, and the effects of the caring role on
- What uses are made of the data and who are the users?
The data are needed for policy development and review, service planning and
implementation, and general research. The key users are the Commonwealth and State
Governments. The size and distribution of groups eligible for assistance under different
program legislation is used by the Commonwealth Departments of Health and Ageing, and
Family and Community Services as the basis for allocating and distributing program funds
to State governments, and by State and Territory departments for service planning and fund
- Were users involved in deciding what information to collect?
Yes, there is a User Advisory Group which includes representatives from all
levels of government, service providers, peak body representatives, disability advocacy
groups, people with disabilities and academics.
A key role of the Advisory group is to advise the ABS on the needs for information about
people with a disability, and priorities for data content in the collections.
- What definition of disability was used?
A person has a disability if he/she has one of the following, that has lasted or
is likely to last for 6 months or more:
- Loss of sight (not corrected by glasses);
- Loss of hearing (with difficulty communicating or use of aids);
- Loss of speech;
- Chronic or recurring pain that restricts everyday activities;
- Breathing difficulties that restrict everyday activities;
- Blackouts, fits or loss of consciousness;
- Difficulty learning or understanding;
- Incomplete use of arms or fingers;
- Difficulty gripping;
- Incomplete use of feet or legs;
- A nervous or emotional condition that restricts everyday activities;
- Restriction in physical activities or physical work;
- Disfigurement or deformity;
- Needing help or supervision because of a mental illness or condition;
- Head injury, stroke or other brain damage, with long-term effects that restrict everyday
- Treatment for any other long-term condition, and still restricted in everyday
- Any other long-term condition that restricts everyday activities.
- Were data collected and compiled according to international
standards or national classifications and definitions? (e.g.ICIDH or ICF)
The first collection in 1981 used the draft of the ICIDH as a conceptual framework. The
more recent collections are consistent with and can be mapped to the ICF.
3. Scope of survey or census
- Describe the population covered in the survey (age, private dwelling population,
institutionalised population, etc.)
All persons, of all ages in both private dwellings and institutions with the
- overseas visitors (usually resident outside Australia);
- members of non-Australian defence forces (and their dependents);
- non-Australian diplomats (including diplomatic staff and non-Australian members of their
- inmates of gaols and reformatories
- people in sparse and indigenous strata in the Northern Territory
4. Coverage and sampling
- Coverage of survey or census (how well was the scope achieved)
Usual residents of private dwellings excluding those who had been away or were likely
to be away for three months.
Residents of special dwellings (other than Health Establishments) who had been or were
likely to be there for three months.
Cared accommodation component
Usual residents of selected Health Establishments who had been or were likely to be
there for three months.
- Sample frame(s) (sample size? Sample frame based on lists, area,
An area sample of private dwellings, covering both urban and rural areas in all States and
Territories (except for those living in remote and sparsely settled parts of Australia)
was used. The Census non-private dwelling list was used to identify selected special
dwellings (that is, hospitals, nursing homes, retirement villages, homes for the aged,
children's homes, and aged care hostels) to be sampled in the cared accommodation
component of the survey. Most other non-private dwellings (eg. hotels, motels, guesthouses
etc) were also included in the household (interviewer-based) component.
The final sample of the 1998 survey comprised 36,951 persons for the household component
and 5,716 persons for the cared accommodation component.
5. Are there other data sources which you use to benchmark your survey results? (e.g.
previous surveys to compare with? what evaluations did you make of the results?)
Validation of the final estimates was based on comparisons with data from previous
disability surveys (1981, 1988 and 1993), the Estimated Resident Population for March
1998, the 1996 Census of Population and Housing, the 1995 National Health Survey, and with
administrative data relevant to the Disability Support Pension and other pensions and
benefits, and Workcover.
6. Response and non-response
- What was the response rate?
- Household component:
Household non-response rates
fully responding 83.8%
partial non-response 9.3% (mainly income questions)
full non-response 6.9% (refusal 1.8%, non-contact 3%, other 2.1%)
- Cared accommodation component
fully responding 93.4%
- Did you evaluate the non-response? (e.g. break it up into full and
partial? impact of non-response? follow-up studies? imputations for missing items?)
No follow-up studies of the non-responding population have been conducted, but the impact
of case non-response is expected to be very small.
There was very little item non-response to disability items, mostly in regard to income
questions. Records with item non-response were not included in final survey estimates. No
imputation for income or any other item was conducted.
7. Data collection (Attach or mail us a copy of your questionnaire)
- Manner of collection (face-to-face interviews, self-administered
questionnaire, telephone, other?)
Household interview conducted by ABS interviewers, in-person or proxy for initial
screening question set, then personal interview for all people identified as having a
disability, all carers, and all people aged 60 years and over.
The cared accommodation component used a mail-back questionnaire.
- Type of respondent (who replied? The disabled person or proxy for the
Personal interview for all people identified as having a disability, all carers, and
all people aged 60 years and over. Proxy interview utilised where selected respondents
could not answer on their own behalf. (Foreign language interviewers were available to
overcome difficulties due to language other than English, including signing.
Cared accommodation component:
Mail-back forms completed by staff at the selected establishments.
- Format of questions (how many questions? pre-coded standardised?)
Questions are standardised with computer assisted interviewing (CAI) in the household
component, and form based mailback methodology for the cared accommodation component.
There are 17 screening questions which determine disability status. Depending on
disability status, age and carer status, respondents are sequenced through different
question structures and modules. The variation is reflected in the range of interview
times from 12 minutes to just under 5 hours. The average interview time for all fully
responding households was 47 minutes.
- List the languages used in the survey or census
In English, with specialist interviewers available for languages commonly
encountered. Interpreters employed if necessary, and initial contact letters and
explanatory brochures available in a range of languages.
8. Measurement error
- Which special data collection procedures were undertaken to reduce measurement
error (e.g. pilot testing of questions and questionnaire? training of
interviewers? detailed coding instructions? follow-up of non response by specialist
Measurement error is reduced through:
- thorough testing of individual questions and the overall questionnaire before being used
in the final survey to minimise problems caused by misleading or ambiguous questions,
inadequate or inconsistent definitions of terminology used or by poor layout of the
questionnaires. Testing for the 1998 survey included the conduct of two pilot tests and a
- training and supervision of interviewers to ensure uniform interviewing practices and a
high level of accuracy in recording answers;
- the development of detailed coding instructions and regular checking for coding
- application of computer edits to ensure that logical sequences were followed;
- validation of tabulation of the file content and identification of unusual values;
- contact letters sent to all selected dwellings prior to interviewer contact;
- probity checks undertaken on a small sample of interviews; and
- follow-up of non response by specialist staff, including reference to the survey being
conducted under the Census and Statistics Act, and it being compulsory to respond.
9. Highlights of the strengths and limitations of survey or census Strengths: (e.g. a
very detailed survey; sound sample design; use of international standard concept and
The key strengths of the survey include:
- A very detailed survey focussed specifically on disability issues, using a large
nationally representative sample.
- The survey was originally designed using the ICIDH as a conceptual framework.
- Interviewers are drawn from the existing household survey interviewer panel, and
provided with intensive training specific to the SDAC survey.
- Sound sample design.
- Inclusion of cared accommodation component.
- Inclusion of carer questions, including a self-completion form for questions seen as
- Inclusion of questions on unmet need for assistance across a range of activity areas.
Limitations: (e.g. high relative standard error for small population
groups/geographic areas; respondent overload due to length of questionnaire; lack of
consistency or survey items across surveys, etc.)
Main limitations relate to:
- high relative standard error for small population groups/geographic areas, this mainly
impacts on small geographic area data needed for service planning at a local level, and
the lack of an Indigenous identifier due to small population constraints.
- expense of the survey.
- lack currently of test-retest data and detailed understanding of the reliability of the
- time constraints on the interview to avoid respondent overload (average interview time
for 1998 was 47 minutes, with some household taking up to 5 hours).
- lack of consistent time-series data, or change in the disability population over time,
as the survey items have changed across surveys.
10. List published sources on disability statistics
Disability, Ageing & Carers: Summary of findings, Australia 1998 (ABS Cat. No.
Disability, Ageing & Carers: User Guide, Australia 1998 (ABS Cat. No. 4431.0)
Disability, Ageing & Carers: Caring in the Community, Australia 1998 (ABS Cat. No.
Disability, Ageing & Carers: Disability and Long-Term Health Conditions, Australia
1998 (ABS Cat. No. 4433.0)
Disability, Ageing and Carers: Unit Record File on Magnetic Media:
- Compact disk (ABS Cat. No. 4430.0.30.001) available in Australia only.
State and Territory standard tables as above
Small Area Predictor standard tables, 1998 survey/1996 Census
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