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

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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.


Experience of legal events of any type


Participants with a disability

Coumarelos et al. (2006) reported that participants with a disability were more likely to experience legal events when compared to other participants, with their odds of reporting legal events being 1.7 times higher. Whereas 72.8 per cent (or 370) of the 508 participants with a disability reported legal events, only 68.1 per cent (or 1305) of the 1917 participants without a disability reported legal events (see Figures 1a and 1b). Furthermore, 40.4 per cent of the participants with a disability reported at least three events, compared with only 30.9 per cent of other participants.

Figure 1a: Number of legal events reported per participant
Participants with a disability, 2003

Note: N=508 participants with a disability.


Figure 1b: Number of legal events reported per participant
Participants without a disability, 2003

Note: N=1917 participants without a disability.


Given the above finding that participants with a disability were more likely to experience legal events, a Mann-Whitney test was used to examine whether this group were also more likely to report a greater number of events. When compared with other participants who reported experiencing legal events, those with a disability who reported experiencing legal events actually reported a significantly higher number of events on average (see Table 3).15 This finding adds further credence to the conclusion that people with a disability are more likely to experience multiple legal events.

Table 3: Mean and median number of legal events by disability status
Participants who reported at least one legal event, 2003
Disability status
Mean no. of events
Median no. of events
No. of participants with 1+ events
Disability
4.1
3.0
370
No disability
3.2
2.0
1305
Note: N=1675 participants who reported at least one legal event.

Disability type sub-groups

Given the increased risk of reporting legal events among the group of participants with a disability, a logistic regression analysis was conducted to examine whether incidence of legal events is related to disability type. The regression was based solely on the data for participants with a disability, and compared the five disability type sub-groups on their overall incidence of legal events of any type. Table 4 provides a summary of these regression results.16

Table 4: Summary of standard binary logistic regression for reporting legal events of any type
Participants with a disability, 2003
SIGNIFICANT VARIABLES
VariableComparison
Odds ratio a
Disability type bMental health problem versus average
ns
Sensory disability versus average
0.3
Physical disability versus average
ns
Chronic condition versus average
1.6
Multiple types versus average
ns
Age (years)15–24 versus 65+
7.5
25–34 versus 65+
3.9
35–44 versus 65+
5.4
45–54 versus 65+
4.3
55–64 versus 65+
2.3
Country of birthEnglish versus non-English speaking
3.0
NON-SIGNIFICANT VARIABLES Gender, personal income, educational level
a An odds ratio greater than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison had higher odds than the second.
An odds ratio less than 1.0 indicates the first category in the comparison had lower odds than the second.
b Each disability type sub-group was compared with the average of all disability type sub-groups.
Notes: N=502 participants with a disability. Disability type was missing for four participants with a disability and data on other demographic variables was missing for another participant with a disability. The participant with an intellectual disability was excluded from the disability type categorisation.
‘ns’ indicates the odds ratio was not statistically significant, that is, the odds for the first category in the comparison were not statistically different from the odds for the second category (even though the overall variable was significant).

The regression analysis revealed that disability type was a significant predictor of reporting legal events for participants with a disability. Age and country of birth were also significant predictors in the model, and were independent of the contribution made by disability type. Gender, personal income and educational level were not significant.

Table 4 shows that, compared with the average for all participants with a disability, the odds of reporting legal events were: It can be seen from Table 5 that, whereas 27.2 per cent of all participants with a disability reported no legal events, a higher percentage (53.6%) of those with a sensory disability reported no legal events and a lower percentage (21.6%) of participants with a chronic condition reported no legal events.17

Table 5: Number of legal events reported per participant by disability type
Participants with a disability, 2003
Disability type
No events
1–2 events
3+ events
No. of participants
%
%
%
Mental health problem a
20.9
30.2
48.8
43
Sensory disability
53.6
28.6
17.9
28
Physical disability
29.4
30.6
40.0
235
Chronic condition
21.6
37.7
40.7
167
Multiple types
26.7
26.7
46.7
30
Total
27.2
32.6
40.2
503
a While the raw percentage reporting no legal events was lower than average for the mental health problem sub-group, there was no significant difference. It is possible that other demographic factors were responsible for the difference in raw percentages or that the small number of participants in the mental health sub-group militated against finding a significant difference
Note: N=503 participants with a disability. Disability type was missing for four participants with a disability. The participant with an intellectual disability was excluded from the disability type categorisation.

With regard to age, those participants with a disability aged under 65 years had higher odds of reporting legal events than those aged 65 years or over (see Table 4). With regard to country of birth, participants with a disability who were born in an English speaking country had higher odds of reporting legal events than those born in a non-English speaking country. Both of these results for participants with a disability are similar to the results reported by Coumarelos et al. (2006) for the overall sample (which also included participants without a disability).

A Kruskal-Wallis test was used to examine the actual number of legal events reported by participants in each disability type sub-group who reported at least one legal event. The results were not significant, indicating that the disability type sub-groups report experiencing a similar number of legal events when they do report events.18 Thus, the higher number of legal events reported by the group of participants with a disability appears to be reflected similarly across the five disability type sub-groups.