Levels of Disability

All people regardless of their disability have the right to a full and decent life, no one falls into the TOO HARD BASKET”.
– A Queensland Disability Advocacy Organisation

Many people with disability engage in work and make a valuable contribution to society. Employment can provide financial independence, a better standard of living and improved physical and mental health.Entering employment can provide individuals with increased confidence, expanding their social network and social skills as well as opportunities to develop a career by gaining new work skills and knowledge.

The type of disability that an individual has can affect their likelihood of participating in the labour market. People with sensory or speech impairment had the best labour market outcomes with a participation rate of 54% and an unemployment rate of 7.0%, while people whose disability was psychological had the lowest participation rate (29%), and the highest unemployment rate (19%). People with sensory or speech impairment may be able to benefit from assistive technologies but this is not the case for people with psychological disability such as mental illness. People with mental illness may experience disruption to their work attendance and career due to the episodic nature of their disability.

The severity of disability is an indication of a person’s limitations in the core activities of communication, mobility and self-care. Of people aged 15-64 years with disability, almost one quarter (23%) had profound or severe disability, while nearly half (47%) had moderate or mild disability. About one third (30%) of people with disability did not have a core activity limitation, yet they may have had a school or work restriction.

As with disability type, the severity of a person’s disability is reflected in their ability to participate in the labour force. Generally, labour force participation decreases as the severity of disability increases. In 2009, those aged 15-64 years with moderate or mild disability had a participation rate of 53%, while those with profound or severe disability had a labour force participation rate of 31%. This pattern was evident across all types of disability. For example, the participation rate of those with moderate or mild physical restriction was 51%, while those with profound or severe physical restriction had a participation rate of 28%.

To see a pattern in unemployment rates, severity and type of disability need to be looked at together. For example, the unemployment rate for people with intellectual disability was high in comparison with other disability groups, regardless of severity. Those with moderate or mild intellectual disability (20%) had a higher unemployment rate than those with moderate or mild physical disability (8.8%). This may partly reflect the unique barriers that people with intellectual disability face in accessing education and work.

The Australian Government, through the National Disability Agreement, provides support to people with disability who wish to enter employment Under the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020, federal, and state and territory governments are making a concerted effort to improve and increase employment services for people with disability. In addition, planned reforms to the Australian welfare support system, including the National Disability Insurance Scheme, aim to create increased opportunities for people with disability to enter and maintain employment. Increases in labour force participation may improve both financial security and personal well being for people with disability.

Often the concept of a ‘good life’ is seen as too personal and subjective to define accurately. However, it is possible to identify the elements of a “good life” that bring together a range of universal things that the vast majority of people would desire.

It has been said that the ingredients to a good life include:

  • Family and friends, intimate group
  • A place to call home
  • Being connected to the community, belonging somewhere
  • A sense of being safe and secure
  • Meaningful work/daytime activity
  • Opportunities for a person to discover and develop their abilities, skills, gifts and talents
  • To be treated as a human and with respect
  • To be dealt with in an honest manner
  • To be treated as an individual
  • Having a say about the important decisions in one’s own life
  • The chance to interact with others in a normal manner
  • Opportunities to participate in ordinary activities of human social life
  • To be able to contribute to the community and have those contributions to be recognised as valuable
  • Good health
  • A transcendent belief system

In his book ‘The Good Life’, Hugh Mackay talks about one of our deep needs as humans is to know that we have lived a useful life and that we have responded as well as possible to the needs of others, contributing to their well being in whatever ways we can.

We can often be fooled into thinking someone has a good life when they have all their obvious needs met, have a place to live, and are the recipients of lots of services or things. We might expect they should be more grateful or happy, but they might not be fulfilled. People like to feel like they contribute to the well being of others, rather than always receiving from it. That sense of purpose comes from people feeling they have lived a useful life through their contribution to others.

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