1996 Disability Survey

Read about the 1996 Disability Survey and access statistics about disabled people.


The 1996 Household Disability Survey and 1997 Disability Survey of Residential Facilities were the first major surveys of disability to be carried out in New Zealand. The surveys provide an extensive database of information on the characteristics of adults and children with disabilities, the nature of their disabilities and their special requirements for equipment and support services.

One in five New Zealander's are limited by Disability

More than 636,000 New Zealanders or 19 per cent of the total population (excluding people living in special residential facilities), are limited in their daily activities because of the long-term effects of a disability.

Adults with Disabilities

The most common disabilities affecting New Zealanders are physical disabilities involving some restriction of movement or loss of agility. Two-thirds of adults with disabilities aged 15 years and over reported having a disability of this type. Some reported that they experienced difficulty walking, moving from room to room, carrying an object a short distance, or standing for a long time. Others said they had difficulty in performing activities such as bending, reaching, dressing themselves, getting in or out of bed, or grasping objects.

Sensory disabilities such as hearing and sight limitations, were the next most commonly reported disability type affecting 43 per cent of adults with disabilities. Another 13 per cent were limited by psychiatric or psychological disabilities, while intellectual disabilities affected 3 per cent of people with disabilities aged 15 years and over.

Number of Disabilities

Most adults who reported that they had a disability had more than one. This applied to 61 per cent of all adults with disabilities.

Older people are more likely than younger people to have a disability. Half of all people aged 65 and over reported having some form of disability. Among those aged 75 and over, 62 per cent were limited to some extent by a disability.

In contrast, 25 per cent of people aged 45-64, 12 per cent of those aged 15-44 and 11 per cent of children under 15 years had a disability.

Older people are also more likely than younger people to have multiple disabilities. Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of people aged 65 years and over with disabilities reported having more than one disability, compared with 55 per cent for those aged 15-64 years.

Children with Disabilities

As with adults, the likelihood of a child having a disability increases with age. In total, 7 per cent of children aged four years and under were reported to have a disability. This rate increased to 13 per cent for children aged 5-14 years.

Reported disability rates for boys were higher than for girls - 13 per cent as against 9 per cent. Of children who had a disability, boys were more likely than girls to have multiple disabilities. This was the case for 45 per cent of boys under 15 years of age compared to 34 per cent of girls.

Of the 84,248 children with disabilities, one-third were reported to have sensory disabilities (hearing or sight limitations), 22 per cent had psychiatric or psychological disabilities and 12 per cent had intellectual disabilities. A chronic condition or health problem, such as severe asthma, lung or heart condition, cancer, diabetes, cerebral palsy or epilepsy was reported for 33 per cent of children with disabilities.

Urban/Rural Differences

The likelihood of having a disability does not vary greatly between rural and urban areas for the population aged under 45 years of age. However, above this age differences exist. People aged 45-64 years living in rural areas were more likely than their urban counterparts to report some level of disability - 30 per cent compared to 24 per cent. At ages 65 years and over the reverse pattern was true, with 50 per cent of those living in urban areas reporting some form of disability as against 44 per cent in rural areas.

The survey results show that people living in the Southern Transitional Health Authority (former Southern RHA) area have the highest disability rates while those living in the Northern Transitional Health Authority have the lowest rates. Overall, 24 per cent of all people living in households in the Southern Transitional Health Authority reported some level of disability, compared with 16 per cent in the Northern Transitional Health Authority.

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Disability in New Zealand: Overview of the 1996/97 Surveys

The Ministry of Health published this report in October 1998. It makes a significant start to the comprehensive analysis of this data, identifying areas of unmet need and providing the first national information on which to base policy, service development, and resource allocation for health and disability services.

The report also sets a baseline for future surveys, and its value will be increased when it forms part of a series of such studies carried out over time to demonstrate the shifts and trends in disability needs.