Centre for Disability Research and Policy

A better life for people with disability around the world
The Centre for Disability Research and Policy produces collaborative research that actively influences policy and practice to improve the lives of people with disability in Australia and the Asia-Pacific.

The Centre for Disability Research and Policy (CDRP) aims to reduce the disadvantage that occurs for people with disability. Our research works to improve the social and economic participation, health and wellbeing of people with disability.

The centre collaborates with a large number of local and international organisations, agencies, governments and service providers to enhance the wellbeing of people with disability. We actively partner with, and employ, people with lived experiences of disability in order to do that.

We aim to provide a strong voice in debates of national importance including the development of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the National Disability Strategy and the Disability Royal Commission. This voice is underpinned by outstanding scholarship led by our stream leaders.

We work closely with our colleagues in the Centre for Disability Studies and and WHO Collaborating Centre for Strengthening Rehabilitation Capacity in Health Systems.

We teach into a number of programs across the University, including the cross-university Disability and Participation Major, the Bachelor of Science (Health), Occupational Therapy, Speech Pathology and Social Work programs. We also have a large number of higher degree and honours students and provide placement opportunities for students completing research-based placements and capstone projects.

A document showing The University of Sydney Impact Centre for Disability Research and Policy (CDRP) research program in a visual format.

A document showing The University of Sydney Impact Centre for Disability Research and Policy (CDRP) research program in a visual format.

Our research and teaching programs

The CDRP has eight work streams led by Sydney School of Health Sciences research teams:

Disability research should be lived experience-led or, in the very least, designed in partnership with people with disability and their supporters. Central to our centre’s strategic direction are our aims to:

  • build capacity and opportunities for people with disability to lead research and
  • make knowledge from lived experience an essential part of the development of policy, service design and workforce capacities

We are working towards these ends through a number of different strategies including appointing people with lived experience as stream leaders, employing people with lived experience in our research programs, advocating for academic careers which value lived experience and partnering with people with lived experience to deliver our teaching programs.


Teaching lead:

Receiving bipartisan support from both major national parties, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) promises to provide Australian people with disability services or equipment they need to for a full and productive participation in society.

How research can help the effective implementation of the NDIS

The NDIS is still being developed and some crucial questions have yet to be answered. The centre continues to play a constructive role in developing and implementing the NDIS through focusing on:

  • complexities around individual needs and system interactions
  • interfaces on other support systems (eg health, housing, compensation, income security and workforce development)
  • evaluating systems and strategies to address systems developing around the NDIS
  • design issues as the NDIS takes shape
  • data development including links to other disability data sets
  • financing arrangements
  • impacts of the NDIS on specific populations including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, and people in rural and remote areas, with a psycho-social disability or of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Recent highlights


For more information on our work on the NDIS or to collaborate please email jennifer.smith-merry@sydney.edu.au or call 9351 9060.

People with disability are often excluded from the development of disability services, research and policy.

The Disability - Inclusive Community Development work stream conducts community-based research in partnership with people with disability and Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs).

Much of our work involves the examination of cross-sector service coordination and collaborative practice. Together with key community stakeholders from disability, community health and mainstream services we develop, trial and improve the design of services and support so that they are inclusive for all people.

Major activities

  • Using participatory methodologies to include people with disability in the design of community programs and services.
  • Developing person-centred emergency preparedness resources that can be integrated into disability, community health and emergency services programs at the community level.
  • Developing and disseminating evidence-based resources to improve the capacity of mainstream service providers to include people with disability and respond more effectively to their support needs.
  • Developing the research capacity of DPOs to engage in data-informed policy advocacy.


Services for people with disability operate across Australia and around the world, but the intended outcomes for people with disabilities are not always achieved.

The Disability Services work stream conducts research to understand outcomes resulting from disability services provision. We collaborate with people with disability, their families, disability service providers and mainstream service providers to develop, trial and analyse support intended to make a positive difference in the daily lives of individuals with disabilities. Much of our work involves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

We work with service providers to strengthen the skills and knowledge of their staff to improve outcomes for people with disability using these services. In addition, we collaborate with mainstream community groups to build their capacity to support members with disability.

Recent highlights

Major activities

  • Employment, retirement and socially-inclusive participation.
  • Developing and disseminating evidence-based resources to improve the participation, wellbeing and health of people with disabilities.
  • Helping people with intellectual disabilities understand and plan for the end of life.
  • Identifying factors related to positive outcomes for people with disabilities to guide policy and practice.

Many current practices of disability research and policy continue to disenfranchise Indigenous peoples with disabilities. The Indigeneity and Disability stream uses a multidisciplinary approach to reconstruct new research methods with Indigenous peoples with disabilities.

We are focused on decolonising the disability research paradigm to advance disability policy and advocacy. We do so by systematically challenging the existing Western ways of knowing and adopting new research methodologies with Indigenous peoples with disabilities and their communities.

Through engaging in new research methods, we aim to ensure research can be translated into constructive policy outcomes that empower Indigenous peoples with disabilities.

Some examples of our work include the special edition of Disability and the Global South and Out of Home Care.

We build partnerships with scholars in critical disability studies, decolonisation, and Southern theorists and other work teams. Our members work with Indigenous communities worldwide to contribute to the global movement in decolonising the disability research paradigm. 


Disability is a barrier to living a personally meaningful and valued life of choice. It is something faced by many people living with a mental illness. These barriers to participation and inclusion originate from both mental illnesses and society.

The Mental Health and Disability stream aims to better understand barriers and enablers to participation and inclusion for people living with mental illness or psychosocial disability.

We critically examine and influence policies and initiatives to enhance participation and inclusion. Our work also amplifies the voice of service users and providers in the policy and research discourse and implementation.

Our stream builds international partnerships with service users, service providers, researchers, government and community organisations. 


Inclusion and participation of people with a disability is underpinned by an informed, vibrant, diverse and quality workforce. The current shifts in legislation and policy, in Australia and beyond, require us to rethink the workforce approaches that have been in place to implement the full potential of policy innovation. The disability sector must expand the thinking around workforce responses and embrace a broader scope of potential areas of influence.

This stream of research will consider a wide range of workforce initiatives to explore knowledge and skill development, models of service delivery that expand access to supports as well as options for building community capacity in providing positive engagement with people with a disability in everyday encounters. Areas of inquiry include:

  • The workforce that supports people with a disability includes specialist disability services but is much broader as community participation increases engagement with many workers in all walks of life.
  • Equity groups often encounter additional barriers to service access due to inadequate workforce or lack of specific workforce preparation such as rural and remote service delivery and services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • The diversity of the workforce, and more specifically the disability workforce is another consideration in providing quality support and positive experiences for both service recipients and workers with a disability. The opportunity to shape community attitudes by demonstrating the benefits of a diverse workforce is an essential component in building the disability workforce research evidence base.

Preparation of students and young people to develop positive experiences and approaches to engaging with people with a disability is fundamental to future workforce development and throws up many unanswered questions. 

Research focus areas

  • Rural and remote disability services
  • Telepractice
  • Delegated practice research


More information on the Disability Workforce stream.

While local government can claim significant progress in disability action planning in recent years, there still remains significant scope for practical improvement by way of research and development.

The introduction of the NSW Disability Inclusion Act 2014 (DIA) has provided the necessary revised legislative tool to undertake a comprehensive disability inclusion action planning process.

Under the DIA, councils were required to develop a stand-alone Disability Inclusion Action Plan by 1 July 2017.

This stream considers the ongoing delivery of local government disability social policy and its effectiveness towards bringing about a fully inclusive society.

Major activities
  • To measure DIA compliance since conception within the context of Local Government NSW’s integrated planning and reporting framework and to directly assist in the development of NSW local council’s individual disability action plans.
  • Address action plan core specifics, focusing on 4 key areas of the NSW Disability Inclusion Plan:
    • Developing positive community attitudes and behaviours
    • Creating liveable communities
    • Supporting access to meaningful employment
    • Improving access to services through better systems and processes
  • Provide council staff and councilors guidance in relation to correct communication skills and appropriate etiquette towards people with disabilities.
  • Identify and remove ableist policy and language within LGNSW and local councils.
  • Promote the benefits of architectural universal design principle to ensure its ongoing application in council, government and private sector development applications.
  • Understanding public access rights of assistance animals, NSW permit legislation, animal types and etiquette.
  • Dr Scott Denton

Collaboration with this research is sought from government agencies, individual researchers, disability groups and people with disabilities. For further information, please email scott.denton@sydney.edu.au

Industry and community

We maintain strong links to industry, government and community partners through shared research.

We actively contribute our knowledge and experience to better the lives of people living with a disability through participating in research and as expert advisors to the Royal Commission


Download the CRE-DH Emergency Planning and Response for People with Disability in Australia (pdf, 5.5mb)


We regularly provide commissioned research outputs for both large and small-scale projects, examples include:

  • Leadership of the Research Agenda setting process for the National Disability Research Partnership (NDRP). Check this page for outputs from this project.
  • A research program that has developed vocational education and employment policies strategies for people with disabilities for the NSW Department of Education
  • an Audit of Disability Research in Australia for the Centre for Applied Disability Research
  • Research to Action and Evidence Check guides for National Disability Services and the Sax Institute
  • a project tracking the NDIS implementation in existing mental health programs, funded by the National Mental Health Commission.
  • A partnership with National Disability Services to run their Annual Market Survey

We conduct both small and large-scale evaluations for government and non-government organisations.

Our evaluation teams hold expertise in a wide range of evaluation methodologies and understand policy and practices surrounding disability and mental health service provision. 

We are strongly committed to working collaboratively both across our own institution and through research partnerships with other universities and organisations.

Our current partners include:

Disability Research Student Group

The Disability Research Student Group (DRSG) provides an informal forum where students, staff or visitors can present their project and discuss issues relevant to the research interests of students, in particular disability related research.

Sessions are open to students from all faculties and schools.

For more information please email the DRSG Coordinator at Rebecca Barton Rebecca.barton@sydney.edu.au

Meetings occur on every 3rd Wednesday of the month 12pm - 2pm.

All meetings will have zoom capabilities.

For more information please email disabilitypolicy.centre@sydney.edu.au.

Our people

The CDRP brings together experts from various disciplines and research areas who work to strengthen and support research on disability for policy development.


Headshot of Associate Professor Jennifer Smith-Merry
Professor Jennifer Smith-Merry
View academic profile

HDR/EMCR Special Interest Group

For more information email
Join our group