Across almost all socio-economic indicators, people with psychosocial and intellectual impairments fare worse. They have the lowest levels of employment, income, and social support, and are more likely to be precariously housed.

The good news is that poor health is not an inevitable consequence of disability; improvements in social and economic conditions like employment, housing and social participation could improve the health of disabled Australians. Such improvements would reduce health costs and offer value for money to society as a whole.

Changing the status quo

That’s where our new Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health, based at the University of Melbourne, comes in. Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, this world-first centre brings together academics from five universities: the University of Melbourne, the University of Sydney, Monash University, the University of New South Wales and RMIT University.

We will identify policies and strategies to improve the social and economic circumstances and health of people with disability while also offering value for money. We are training new PhD students and early career researchers and working with government and non-government organisations and peak bodies, including advocacy groups, to conduct this research.

Our new centre’s researchers are at the forefront of research on disability and health, taking a life course approach to optimising the wellbeing of people with disability, covering childhood, youth transitions, parenting and retirement.

The new Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health will conduct research across the lifespan, from childhood to old age. Picture: pghdeafclub / Flickr

Through the application of rigorous epidemiological and econometric methods, we have begun to examine how much socio-economic disadvantage makes the health and wellbeing of people with disability worse. We have shown how socio-economic disadvantage drives much of the inequalities in health we observe between people with and without disability.

Our research with disabled young people suggests they are tracking poorly relative to their peers in health and in social and economic wellbeing. The centre will vastly expand this program to find out which social and economic indicators have the biggest gaps between disabled and non-disabled Australians.

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