Disability in New Zealand today

In this section, you can learn about disabled New Zealanders from their perspective. This information comes from the New Zealand Disability Strategy.

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Who we are - our community

We are children, young people and adults, we are parents and grandparents. We are also friends, family and whānau. What we want is no different to anyone else in New Zealand; we want to belong, contribute to our families and whānau and participate in our communities.

What disability means to us

Disability is something that happens when people with impairments face barriers in society; it is society that disables us, not our impairments, this is the thing all disabled people have in common. It is something that happens when the world we live in has been designed by people who assume that everyone is the same. That is why a non-disabling society is core to the vision of the New Zealand Disability Strategy.

Every human being is a unique individual. Even if we have the same impairment as someone else, we will experience different opportunities and barriers because of where we live and how we are treated by those around us. The time and context in our lives when we may acquire our impairment(s) also informs what barriers or opportunities we may experience.

This is the social model of disability and it is how we understood disability in the first New Zealand Disability Strategy in 2001. It still holds true today. It is also the same understanding of disability that is embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Convention). The Convention says that disabled people include: “…those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others…” (Article 1).

We are part of diversity and we are diverse ourselves

Disabled people are part of the vast and diverse human experience. Just as we accept and respect differences like gender, ethnicity, language or belief, the difference and diversity of disabled people need to be understood, acknowledged and celebrated.

Just like other communities, the disability community has different groups of people who experience life in different ways. We think it is important to acknowledge the diversity of our community, both because we are proud of it and also because we want to make sure that no one is left behind. The Strategy is for all of us.

The points below describe some of the rich diversity within our community:

  • Māori are the tangata whenua of New Zealand and as the indigenous people they have a special relationship with the Crown. This relationship is recorded in the founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
  • Addressing the inequality that Māori disabled people face is important; 26 percent of Māori identified as disabled in 2013. When adjusted for age, the Māori disability rate is 32 percent.
  • New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is an official language of New Zealand used by some 20,000 New Zealanders, approximately 4,000 of whom are Deaf people who use NZSL as their first or preferred language.
  • The demography of our country is changing, and we are increasingly becoming a multicultural society. This is important to the disability community, as people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds can sometimes understand and experience disability in different ways to others.
  • Pacific peoples make up a growing proportion of our country and of the disability community (19 percent of Pacific people identified as disabled in 2013), as do people from Asian backgrounds (13 percent in 2013). Twenty-eight percent of people from Middle Eastern, Latin American and African backgrounds identified as disabled in 2013. Over the coming decades, we will see more cultural and ethnic diversity in the disability community.
  • New Zealand has an ageing population which will result over time in an increasing proportion of people experiencing disability. In 2013, 59 percent of people over the age of 65 identified as disabled. Disabled people are also living longer, and there will be an increasing number of people with age-related impairments. This is a global trend and one that is drawing greater attention to disability. Meeting the needs and challenges of our ageing population is a significant issue now, and will continue to be over coming decades.
  • Gender norming plays out in the disability community, just like it does in society more generally. Disabled women and girls face different barriers to disabled men and boys.

 Our community will change

This is just a snapshot of the rich diversity of the disability community. Because disability is about the way other people treat us, it is a dynamic concept that will continue to evolve as our society changes over time.

Future economic growth of the country has the potential to be constrained by skill and labour shortages. The low employment rates of disabled people represent a significant loss of potential contribution to New Zealand’s economy.

Disability impacts on many non-disabled people too

Our families, whānau, friends, carers and supporters are an important part of our community. In this way, disability is something that impacts on people without impairments. The disabling society we experience affects them too.

Read the stories of 25 disabled New Zealanders


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