Disability and Health – a new centre of research excellence

Over the past few weeks I have been busy with a number of different projects relating to the theme of disability – all of which will be updated on here at some point soon.

One of the really cool things I have been doing is working on a co-produced piece of research into experiences of the National Disability Insurance Scheme with community researchers who live with a disability.  The group of researchers we recruited for this project are all very passionate advocates of disability rights and are a very smart and fun group.  It is an absolute pleasure to be involved in this project and in the new year we will start to present our findings.

One of the things that has hit me during the process of data collection is just how intertwined disability and deprivation are.  Of course not everyone with a disability is more likely to be socio-economically disadvantaged, but the data suggests that the health of people with disabilities is poorer than non-disabled people across most health outcomes, including those unrelated to their impairment. Disabled people are more likely to be overweight or obese, to smoke, to be physically inactive or to have poor diets. They also have higher rates of health service use and chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and are less likely to use preventative health care. Disabled Australians fare particularly badly in global terms – they have the lowest relative income and one of the lowest levels of labour force participation out of all the OECD countries. Yet we lack good data about how to target health and social policies to improve the life of people with disabilities and to reduce social and economic disadvantage.

I am very lucky to be part of a team who have just been awarded an NHMRC-funded centre of research excellence in disability and health who will be gathering evidence to guide social and health policy reform with the explicit intent of improving the health of working-age disabled Australians.

Led by Professor Anne Kavanagh at the University of Melbourne the centre also involves Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn, Professor Eric Emerson, Dr Dennis Petrie, Dr Hannah Badland, Professor Peter Butterworth, Professor Stewart Einfeld, Professor Roger Stancliffe and myself and Dr. Gemma Carey of UNSW, Canberra leading on the policy theme.  I am incredibly happy to be working with such a great team and in such an important area.  I look forward to posting updates here as we further develop our work.