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Understanding Disability

Disability is a normal part of the human experience, with some form of disability affecting 18.3 per cent of the population, or approximately 4.3 million people in Australia. People with disability are as diverse as those without and undertake the full range of life roles - they are parents, partners, managers, employees, health professionals, artists, sportspeople and more. Our perceptions of people with disability are socially and culturally conditioned. Negative attitudes and assumptions, often based on misunderstanding or ignorance, can shape the way we behave towards them.

Within the post-secondary education sector, individuals with disability continue to be identified as a disadvantaged equity group, due to the under representation in accessing, participating and succeeding within higher education in Australia. Within the 15 to 65-year-old age group, only 15% people with disability have a bachelor degree or higher compared to 26% for individuals without disability.1 Currently students with disability represented 5.2% of all domestic undergraduates in 2012, the second consecutive year enrolment has topped 5%.2,3 This is still below the national reference target of their population share of 8%.3

This section will provide an overview of disability and in particular, disability within the post-secondary education environment in the Australian context. It will provide information on the current situation in Australia including current access and participation statistics and influencing legislation and standards.

For detail information about data and statistics relating to students with disability in the tertiary education sector visit Data and Evaluation - ADCET


1 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012). Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings 2012. Cat. no. 4430.0. Accessed on 28 November 2014. Sourced from

2 Naylor, R., Baik, C., & James, R. (2013). Developing a Critical Interventions Framework for advancing equity in Australian higher education. Discussion paper prepared for the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. Centre for the Study of Higher Education, Melbourne: The University of Melbourne. Accessed on 28 November 2014. Sourced from (19/10/15 

3 Koshy, P. (2014). Student Equity Performance in Australian Higher Education: 2007 to 2012. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Perth: Curtin University. Accessed on 28 November 2014. Sourced from