Disability services

Led by Professor Roger Stancliffe, Professor of Intellectual Disability

Why is disability services research important?

Over 314,000 people with disabilities (1 in 71 of the Australian population) and their families rely on disability services.

Australian disability services operate in suburbs and towns across the nation. Over 2,280 disability service agencies provide services at more than 13,880 locations throughout Australia. They deliver a vast array of services including employment, accommodation support, respite, community access and support, sport and recreation, as well as advocacy. The services are mainly funded by the federal, state or territory governments, with a government investment of over $6.2 billion per year.

With so much at stake, Australians expect our disability services to be of high quality and effective in meeting the needs of the people they serve. But how can we tell whether those needs have been met? We need a system of measurement that shows what difference a service is making in people’s lives; the outcomes. Statistics are helpful in monitoring outcomes, for example, how many people were placed in jobs? Equally important is asking service users themselves: what difference has this service made to your life?

Australia does not have a national system to monitor outcomes, so it is difficult to know whether disability services and policies are achieving their intended effects. The Disability Services work stream will contribute to developing such a system. We will also work with service providers and people with a disability to improve services and outcomes. Our major activities are described below.

Outcomes Monitoring

Measuring the outcomes experienced by people with a disability is the best indicator of disability service quality. Outcomes provide a direct index of benefits to disability service users. Outcomes data are needed to guide and evaluate disability policy and services and to help make them better. We will help with the creation of an Australian outcomes monitoring system by:

  • Drawing on our collaborative work on outcomes monitoring and analysis in the USA, Australia, the UK, Europe and other countries. View relevant publications
  • Working with disability service providers, funders and policy makers to evaluate the feasibility and usefullness of outcomes monitoring in Australia
  • Further developing effective ways to compare outcomes for people with a disability with outcomes for the broader Australian community.

Improving Outcomes

We will work with disability service providers and service users to develop and test ways to improve outcomes. This will include formal collaborations with disability service providers through research funding such as Linkage Grants (Australian Research Council) and Partnership Grants (National Health and Medical Research Council). Examples of our work in this area include:

  • Increased participation in meaningful activities following active Support intervention engaging residents of group homes in everyday activities.
  • Social inclusion in mainstream community groups for older people with a disability as they transition toward retirement. To see a video of a conference presentation about this subject please click here.
  • Increasing physical activity and exercise among adults with intellectual disability
  • Mapping strategies that promote the development of a healthy sexuality
  • Supporting the social inclusion of men and boys

Approaches to improving outcomes might include adapting interventions that are effective in the general population, to the needs of people with a disability.

Understanding the disability service system

Service delivery is complex. Understanding how the disability service system operates is essential to effective policy implementation and to successfully applying research. Our research will focus on key issues such as;

a) the barriers to, and facilitators of, policy implementation and adoption of evidence-based practice
b) the comparative effectiveness and cost of different types of disability services for different groups of service users.

View examples of our work in this area

Building Capacity

The Disability Services stream will also offer training and support to disability services in areas related to our research, including:

  • Active Support - a proven caregiver training intervention to increase meaningful participation by people with a disability in everyday activities
  • Social inclusion - supporting adults with a disability to join mainstream community groups and volunteering opportunities.ads

These knowledge translation efforts are intended to enable best practice to become common practice.

The Centre for Disability Research and Policy is uniquely placed at the University of Sydney where practitioners in a range of health and other disciplines are trained. We have an active focus on skills and knowledge about disability in our undergraduate and postgraduate teaching programs. This will help build a future disability workforce that is able to meet the challenges of disability.