How inclusive is Australia for people with disability?

As we approach International Day for People with Disability, the Centre for Inclusive Design breaks down how Australia holds up regarding inclusion for people with disability according to new research analysing hundreds of thousands of conversations. 


A comprehensive new report, the Inclusion Compass 2022/23 by Centre for Inclusive Design and The Lab Insight & Strategy allows us to see how inclusive Australia is for edge users based on conversations from across the nation. This International Day for People with Disability, Centre for Inclusive Design focuses on what the findings say for people with disability. 

Significantly, the report reveals what people with disability believe the solutions to be in key areas like health and wellbeing, community safety, education and development, income equality, connection and representation and the digital divide, and shows why we need government to embed inclusive design methodology into government and policymaking decisions to better Australia’s standing as an inclusive nation for people with disability. 

More than 700,000 online conversations were analysed using AI-powered digital decoders. These conversations were then compared with six months of workshops with people from communities marginalised by current systems including people with disability.  

What are key challenges for people with disability in Australia?  

To know what an inclusive Australia should look like, the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals were matched against inclusion factors, like age, race, ethnicity, gender, sex, and religion, aligning with this year’s theme for International Day for People with Disability, ‘United in action to rescue and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for, with and by persons with disabilities’.

Key challenges for people with disability were revealed in the research based on conversations both online and in person. 

Conversations made it clear that people with disability are struggling to feel properly included in Australia’s employment system. People stated the need to be paid a fair wage for their work. Challenges related to employment included people with disability often being seen as less capable and people with disability and chronic health conditions having variable levels of disability making it difficult for employers needing certainty in the workforce.

Disability support pensions were revealed as being highly problematic. One disability advocate with lived experience said, ‘If you find employment and get off the disability support pension, (then become unemployed again) getting back onto it is a nightmare.’ Disability employment payments were also shown to not match inflation. 

When it came to education, in many instances, standardised classrooms are currently failing students with disability who cannot keep up with the style of teaching often seen as ‘mainstream.’ While technology can improve outcomes, sometimes technology was perceived as widening divisions between people.  

Public healthcare also was an issue that needed to become more inclusive in Australia. People with disability often face difficulty in accessing sites. Public housing was an issue with existing housing services proving to be difficult to navigate and sometimes being inaccessible. There is also a level of assumed knowledge which creates a barrier to access for people with disability. 

The conversations also gave an understanding of the unique challenges facing people with disability from an intersectional lens. A key issue is the marginalisation of elderly people with disability. The issue being, when their NDIS support finishes because of age, elderly people with disability feel discarded. The assumption is their disability is equal to aging.  

Conversations also included the over criminalisation and incarceration of First Nations peoples with disabilities in prison, youth detention centres, and forensic mental health units. This was of significant concern when it came to the issue of community safety. People with disability and First Nations communities were concerned about the use of restraints – both chemical and physical – saying this was a significant issue. There is a consistent, long-standing conversation on the need to legislate an end to forced sterilisation of women with disabilities which also was revealed in the report. 

What are the solutions? 

The Inclusion Compass report showed that people with disabilities and edges users more generally have answers to the challenges they face. Conversations revealed solutions like: 

  • upskilling and providing genuine employment opportunities and pathways for people with disabilities 
  • ensuring people with disability are remunerated with adequate wages reflecting the work and matching inflation and for  
  • government policies and programs to recognise the varying needs of participants. This is crucial to ensure people with a disability can properly participate in education, training, and employment programs.  

Other solutions pointed to: 

  • supporting people with disability with training and resources on technology for special adjustments and personalisation  
  • inclusion to be built into education systems 
  • allowing greater flexibility for people with disability in the workforce 
  • shifting focus from employee to employer in making workplaces inclusive and accessible and 
  • the government to lend support to small and medium enterprises, and other entry level employment providers so people can have more workplace flexibility due to carer requirements, trauma, or variable disability, and still access permanent work. 

Conversations also made it clear that the Disability Support Service should be easier to opt in and out of, so people can apply for work without the risk of failure being as high.  

When it came to health, solutions involved ensuring accessible avenues for people with disability to access healthcare and information. The supply of safer and more accessible public housing for those in need should be triaged. Conversations also revealed the need for public housing to be accessible (ramps and rails) as a baseline and for housing to also be safe and easily accessible by public transport.  

Conclusion: How does Australia hold up in terms of inclusion? 

At this week’s launch of the Inclusion Compass report, Professor Simon Darcy, an academic and a disability advocate with lived experience, was asked if Australia had improved when it came to inclusion. “[Yes, Australia has] massively moved forward in 40 years,” he answered “but there is still a lot to do.”

Professor Darcy also made the point that there is “an evolving understanding” around disability. “It’s never static, and a report like this one ‑ which I provided some advice on, but I wasn’t involved with the research team ‑ is really important to understand how these areas change and evolve over time,” continued Professor Darcy. 

Manisha Amin, CEO at Centre for Inclusive Design, spoke about the proactive nature of edge users. “The … communities [interviewed in the report] have not just said “this is what we’re worried about”.  They’ve said, “This is what we should do about it.” 

This International Day for People with Disability as we consider 2023’s theme, ‘United in action to rescue and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for, with and by persons with disabilities’, we can see that people with disability have real solutions to Australia’s challenges around inclusion – but they need to be asked and listened to. 

To learn more about the state of inclusion in Australia for edge users including for people with disability, read the Inclusion Compass report here. 

About CfID: Centre for Inclusive Design (CfID) is a social enterprise that helps government, educators, business, and community organisations design and deliver products, services and experiences that are accessible and usable by as many people as possible. 

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