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Intellectually disabled health gap to be examined

Media release

Curtin University researchers have received a $250,000 grant from the Western Australian Disability Services Commission to investigate health inequalities experienced by adults with intellectual disabilities in Western Australia.

The research will investigate inequalities that exist for this population group in order to provide a baseline that will inform future health interventions.

Professor Errol Cocks, of Curtin’s Centre for Research into Disability and Society, will lead the 12-month project, which will be the first population study of its kind in Australia.

“Currently there is no comprehensive information about the health status of people with intellectual disability in WA or Australia, and yet we know this is a vulnerable group that often experiences poor health,” Professor Cocks said.

“With greater knowledge of the circumstances facing adults with an intellectual disability it is anticipated that targeted approaches can be developed to deal with the health issues and barriers.”

Professor Cocks said there was low participation by adults with intellectual disabilities in many preventative health measures.

“There is some agreement in the disability sector that since the move away from institutionalisation of people with intellectual disabilities, there has been less attention from the health sector on the health issues this group face,” he said.

“Yet Australian and international studies show that compared with the general population, people with intellectual disabilities have poorer health and less access to appropriate healthcare.

“We hope to understand what might be the barriers for adults with intellectual disabilities for accessing readily available health services, such as pap smears, mammograms and other common health screenings.”

The research team will survey a representative group of about 400 WA adults focusing on four key areas; socio-demographics, health conditions, health behaviours and experiences within the health system.

To provide advice as the study progresses, the researchers have set up a reference group made up of local disability advocacy groups and peak disability organisations, including the National Disability Services (WA) and the WA Developmental Disability Council. The reference group also includes national and international membership from Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, Ireland, the US, and the UK.

“With well-directed healthcare initiatives offered at the community level, people with intellectual disabilities will enjoy a better level of general health and there will be less people with preventable health conditions requiring hospital care,” Professor Cocks said.

The research data collected will also provide a baseline of information that can be used to assess the impact of health intervention measures put into place in the future.


Professor Errol Cocks, Centre for Research into Disability and Society, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 3621, Email:

Kristy Jones, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 9085, Email: