New research centre to improve health of Australians with disabilities

July 17 / 195

Alastair McEwin, Aunty Di Kerr, Carly Findlay, Julie McCrossin, Emily Dash, Keran Howe at the launch of the Centre of Research Excellence in Disability & Health, 27 June 2017
Alastair McEwin, Aunty Di Kerr, Carly Findlay, Julie McCrossin, Emily Dash, Keran Howe at the launch of the Centre of Research Excellence in Disability & Health, 27 June 2017

A world-first research initiative bringing together leading academics and disability sector stakeholders will improve health outcomes for Australians with a disability.

One in five Australians has a disability and those numbers are increasing, with Australia currently lagging behind other similar countries in terms of public health research, practice and dedicated policy for people with disabilities

The opening of the Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health (CRE-DH) last week was therefore a landmark event in the history of disability research in Australia. 

Professor Anne Kavanagh, Head of the new Centre, says the health of people with disabilities is worse across most health measures, including those unrelated to their impairment.

“Australians with disabilities 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.

“What is not well understood is that their poor health may be unrelated to their impairment and there is a lack of data around health impacts,” she says.

The new centre will take a collaborative approach to improve health outcomes for Australians with disabilities, bringing together advocacy groups with international and national academics.

“We need to be working across a range of areas such as health economics, epidemiology, health and policy,” Professor Kavanagh says.

The Centre was formally opened by the Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin on Tuesday 27 June. A panel event, featuring the Commissioner, media personality Julie McCrossin, writer and performer Emily Dash, and journalist and appearance activist Carly Findlay, coincided to celebrate the launch.

On the night, Commissioner McEwin remarked on the role of the new centre "to challenge the assumptions that people with disabilities cannot be included equally within society – this includes access to health, and we know that if we have access to good-quality health services, we can really participate equally in the fields of education, employment, community ... just as everybody does."

Writer Emily Dash also reflected on the definition of health: "Health is not the absence of illness ... it's about having meaningful roles in our society. So for me that means having meaningful connections, and also finding work and finding way to spend my time. That makes me, and other people, feel like a valuable human being."

Professor Kavanagh says research at the new centre will focus on working-age adults, 15 – 64 years old, to breakdown the barriers to employment for Australians with disabilities through policy reform. 

“This will not only have health benefits for those wanting to work, but enormous economic benefits as well.

“By producing a comprehensive and systematic knowledge base, researchers at the Centre will determine the most cost-effective policy interventions, in terms of better health for people with disabilities as well as the best value for money."

It is hoped a better understanding of factors that influence the health of disabled Australians will translate to widespread policy reform to support their improved health.

Listen to Professor Kavanagh dicuss 'Disabling Ableism' on the Eavesdrop on Experts podcast.

Story by Anna Maddison.

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