Note: the original hard copy of this report is 24 pages .

cover image

The legal needs of people with different types of chronic illness or disability, Justice issues paper 11   

, 2009 Consistent with overseas research, Justice made to measure: NSW Legal Needs Survey in disadvantaged areas reported that people with a chronic illness or disability are particularly vulnerable to experiencing legal problems and have difficulty resolving these problems. However, `chronic illness or disability` constitutes a diverse range of conditions and very little research to date has compared and contrasted the legal needs of people with different types of illness or disability. Using data from the NSW Legal Needs Survey, this paper compares people with different types of chronic illness or disability on their incidence of legal problems, their rates of taking action in response to these problems and their resolution rates.

Description of disability type sub-groups

When participants of the Coumarelos et al. (2006) survey reported a chronic illness or disability, they were asked to specify the type of illnesses or disabilities they had.11 Their responses were recorded into the following seven categories:
These seven categories were grouped into five disability type sub-groups for the purposes of the present paper (see Table 2). Due to insufficient numbers, it was not possible to retain intellectual disability and learning disability as disability type sub-groups.12 Of the 508 participants with a disability, 503 were used in the analyses that compared disability types.13 As Table 2 shows, 30 participants reported two or more types of chronic illness or disability. The remaining 473 participants with a disability only reported one type, with 43 reporting a mental health problem, 28 reporting a sensory (visual or hearing) disability, 235 reporting a physical (non-sensory) disability, and 167 reporting a chronic condition.

Table 2: Disability type
Participants with a disability, 2003
Disability type
No. of participants
Mental health problem only a
Sensory (visual or hearing) disability only b
Physical (non-sensory) disability only c
Chronic condition only d
Multiple types e
a Mental health problem includes, but is not limited to, anxiety disorders, psychoses, stress disorders, substance abuse/addiction, personality disorders and depression.
b Sensory disability includes visual disability (i.e. blindness or visual impairment that is not corrected by glasses or contact lenses) and hearing disability (i.e. deafness, hearing impairment and hearing loss).
c Physical disability is a physical impairment that limits the individual’s activities or participation in society. As well as such physical conditions as paraplegia and quadriplegia, it includes loss of limbs and physical conditions that impair movement such as back problems, arthritis and occupational overuse syndrome.
d Chronic conditions are other long-term illnesses or diseases that impair functioning, and include such conditions as diabetes, heart problems and asthma.
e Of these 30 participants, 24 participants reported two disability types, five participants reported three types and one participant reported four types. Of these 30 participants, 23 reported a physical disability, 16 reported a chronic condition, 14 reported a mental health problem, 12 reported a sensory disability and one reported a learning disability.
Notes: n=503 participants with a disability. Disability type was missing for 4 participants with a disability and the participant with an intellectual disability was excluded from the disability type categorisation.