Disability Definitions

There are many reliable sources of disability statistics in Ireland. The definition of disability used in statistics can vary considerably from one source to another, and disability statistics often capture different aspects of disability. Disability statistics can also be affected by how the data are collected, such as whether disability status was self-assessed, based on a professional assessment or on qualifying for a particular type of support. People’s perception of what constitutes a threshold of disability can also differ, and can vary over time.


The Census of the Population is carried out by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The Census is usually conducted once every five years, and is the most comprehensive survey conducted in the State. The Census enumerates persons that report having a disability on Census night, as well additional information such as disability type, age, gender, education, employment, family status and housing circumstances.

Linking administrative and census data

The NDA has collaborated with the Central Statistics Office on a project that linked disability data from the 2016 Census with data from the administrative sources including revenue and education data. This resulted in a paper published in 2021 ‘Employment and Welfare Analysis of People with a Disability 2019’.

This approach to linking data fits with the principle of ‘collect once, use often’ and we are exploring other opportunities to use this data. The report itself comprises statistical information across a wide range of topics providing new insights into employment, education, housing and other outcomes in the lives of persons with a disability.

National Disability Survey 2006

The National Disability Survey (NDS) 2006 was a follow-up survey of approx. 14,000 individuals who had declared a disability in the 2006 Census. The NDS questionnaires were based on the social model of disability which defines disability as the outcome of the interaction between a person with a disability and the environmental and attitudinal barriers that they may face. The situation of people with a disability is examined in the NDS in the following nine areas:

  • Caring and help from other persons;
  • Attitudes of other people;
  • Transport
  • Built environment accessibility
  • Education
  • Work and training
  • Social participation
  • Sport and exercise
  • General issues such as use of medication, health and smoking

Quarterly National Household Survey

The Quarterly National Household Survey was replaced by the Labour Force Survey in 2017. There are a number of disability relevant Quarterly National Household Survey modules including Disability in the labour force (Q2 2002), Disability Update (Q1 2004), and Equality (Q4 2004 and Q4 2010).

Labour Force Survey

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) replaced the Quarterly National Household Survey in 2017. It is a large-scale, nationwide survey of households in Ireland. It is designed to produce quarterly labour force estimates that include the official measure of employment and unemployment in the state. It regularly collects information on disability status of participants.

Survey on Income and Living Conditions

The Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) is an annual household survey which records information on income and living conditions and is used as a basis for measuring poverty.

National Ability Supports System (NASS)

The National Ability Supports System (NASS) is managed by the Health Research Board and combines two older databases, the National Intellectual Disability Database and the National Physical and Sensory Disability Database. NASS includes data on people using disability services and provides information on disability service use and need for policy service planning and research in Ireland.

Social Protection Statistics

The Department of Social Protection publishes Social Welfare Statistics on a regular basis covering the numbers of people getting payments related to illness, disability and caring.

Growing up in Ireland Survey

Growing Up in Ireland is a Government-funded study of children being carried out jointly by the ESRI and Trinity College Dublin. It is managed by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in association with the Central Statistics Office.

The study started in 2006 and follows the progress of two groups of children: 8,000 9-year-olds (Cohort ’98) and 10,000 9-month-olds (Cohort ’08). The children are re-visited at periodic intervals and the survey findings can be used to track influences on the development and wellbeing of children with and without disabilities.

The Irish Longitudinal Survey on Ageing – TILDA

The Irish Longitudinal Survey on Ageing survey (TILDA) is a large-scale, nationally representative, longitudinal study on ageing in Ireland, the overarching aim of which is to make Ireland the best place in the world to grow old. It follows a sample of older people (over 50s) at periodic intervals.

The Intellectual Disability Supplement to the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (IDS-TILDA) is a longitudinal study researching ageing in Ireland among people with an intellectual disability aged 40 and over. IDS-TILDA is the flagship research project within the Trinity Centre for Ageing and Intellectual Disability.