Introduction and Vision


'Disability is in society, not in me.' 'I have the right to dignity, to develop my potential, to use my qualities and skills.'   - Consultation comments

We live in a disabling society. The NZ Disability Strategy presents a plan for changing this.

Disability is not something individuals have. What individuals have are impairments. They may be physical, sensory, neurological, psychiatric, intellectual or other impairments.

Disability is the process which happens when one group of people create barriers by designing a world only for their way of living, taking no account of the impairments other people have. Our society is built in a way that assumes that we can all move quickly from one side of the road to the other; that we can all see signs, read directions, hear announcements, reach buttons, have the strength to open heavy doors and have stable moods and perceptions.

Although New Zealand has standards for accessibility, schools, workplaces, supermarkets, banks, movie theatres, marae, churches and houses are, in the main, designed and built by non-disabled people for non-disabled users. This is our history of disability in New Zealand.

Disability relates to the interaction between the person with the impairment and the environment. It has a lot to do with discrimination, and has a lot in common with other attitudes and behaviours such as racism and sexism that are not acceptable in our society.

People and groups of people should not be judged by one particular aspect of their lives - whether it's their race, gender, age or impairment. Individual beliefs and assumptions, as well as the practices of institutions, mean that many disabled people are not able to access things that many non-disabled people take for granted.

The desire to break down the barriers that cause disability is also closely linked to ideas about the human rights of people with impairments. Without human rights we cannot live as full human beings.

Human rights include political, civil, social, cultural and economic rights. Human rights are described by international instruments - such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and core treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). In New Zealand we have legislation such as the Bill of Rights Act, the Human Rights Act and the Privacy Act.

In the NZ Disability Strategy discussion document, the term 'people experiencing disability' was used throughout the document. There was a mixed reaction to this term - some people liked it and thought it was a good way of expressing that disability is something that happens to people who have impairments. Other people thought it was over-complicated.

The NZ Disability Strategy sector reference group has recommended that this final Strategy should use the term 'disabled people' to refer to the people at the heart of this Strategy.

Vision of a non-disabling society

Along with other New Zealanders, disabled people aspire to a good life.

The vision of this Strategy is a fully inclusive society. New Zealand will be inclusive when people with impairments can say they live in:

'A society that highly values our lives and continually enhances our full participation.' 

This will happen in a country where:

  • disabled people have a meaningful partnership with Government, communities and support agencies, based on respect and equality,
  • we have moved forward from exclusion, tolerance and accommodation of disabled people to a fully inclusive and mutually supportive society<,
  • disabled people are integrated into community life on their own terms. This means that equal opportunities are assured but individual choices are available and respected,
  • the abilities of disabled people are valued and not questioned,
  • interdependence is recognised and valued, especially the important relationships between disabled people and their families, friends, whānau and other people who provide support,
  • human rights are protected as a fundamental cornerstone of government policy and practice,
  • the diversity of disabled people, including their cultural backgrounds, is recognised, and there is flexibility to support their differing aspirations and goals,
  • disabled people are treated equitably, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, type of impairment or when and how the impairment was acquired,
  • community-based services ensure that disabled people are supported to live in their own communities, and institutionalisation is eliminated,
  • the idea that society imposes many of the disabling barriers faced by people with impairments is widely understood and, therefore, legislation, policy and other activities enhance rather than disable the lives of people with impairments,
  • the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are recognised.


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