Disability in New Zealand

The two most important documents that impact on disabled people are the New Zealand Disability Strategy and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These two documents work together with domestic legislation (such as the Human Rights Act 1993 and the Building Act 2004) and other treaties to provide a context for realising disabled people's rights in New Zealand.

Policy setting

Wide ranging action is needed across New Zealand society to realise disabled people's rights. A role for the Government is to show leadership that others can follow.

In October 2010, the Government stepped up its commitment to disabled people by meeting an important obligation in the UN Convention. Following discussions by the Office for Disability Issues with disability sector organisations over the last two years, the Government agreed a framework to promote, protect and monitor implementation of the UN Convention. This framework meets the obligation in article 33 of the UN Convention and sets out roles and functions within government and independent of government.

The government mechanism is the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues, which has the job of co-ordinating implementation across government, and the Office for Disability Issues is the focal point on disability issues.

The independent mechanism is made up of three parts:

  • the Human Rights Commission, which has an existing mandate for human rights, has a broad role across all three functions of promotion, protection and monitoring (including the proposal to establish a full-time Disability Rights Commissioner)
  • the Office of the Ombudsmen has a role in the areas of protection and monitoring within its existing mandate, which is confined to agencies in the state sector
  • the Convention Coalition, a governance-level steering group formed by six major disabled people's organisations to run a rights monitoring programme (using the Disability Rights Promotion International methodology).

Budget 2010 provided funding of $2.34 million over three years for the independent mechanism and consists of $900,000 for the Human Rights Commission, $690,000 for the Office of the Ombudsmen and $750,000 for the Convention Coalition.

The Government also agreed that the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues meet once a year with the independent mechanism participants to discuss progress and priorities with implementation.

The Ministerial Committee's supporting officials are also expected to have ongoing engagement with the independent mechanism participants. 

Framework to promote, protect and monitor implementation

Government mechanism
Co-ordinating mechanism within government for implementation
        Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues
Chief Executives' Group on Disability Issues ArrowFocal Point within government
        Office for Disability Issues
Senior Officials Group on Disability Issues
Arrow Up and Down
  • Trusting and collaborative relationships
  • Information sharing
  • Annual meeting between the mechanisms
Arrow Up and Down
Independent mechanism
Ombudsmen ArrowConvention Coalition
        (disabled people's organisations)
Human Rights Commission


Information about disabled people

Growing what we know about disabled people as a population group is an ongoing priority. Better information will help inform decision making and ensure that actions which make a difference are identified and implemented.

As part of improving our knowledge base, in 2009, the Office for Disability Issues commissioned a review of statistical data from the 1996, 2001 and 2006 Disability Surveys [1] to compare key social and economic outcomes for disabled people and non-disabled people over time [2]. It has also been a useful contribution to New Zealand's first report on implementing the UN Convention.

An important factor to keep in mind when interpreting this data is that disabled people are on average older than non-disabled people. This may partly account for some of the differences in social and economic outcomes for disabled people compared with others. Also, differences between the three surveys makes analysing trends over the period difficult.

However, given these factors, there was no clear overall pattern of improvement or deterioration over the period 1996 to 2006 in the position of disabled people relative to non-disabled people.

In each of the three surveys, when compared with non-disabled people of all ages, disabled people were:

  • less likely to be living in one-family households and more likely to live alone

  • more likely to have a low annual household income

  • more likely to live in the more deprived areas of New Zealand.

Compared with non-disabled adults [3], disabled adults were:

  • more likely to have no educational qualifications and less likely to have post-school qualifications

  • more likely to not be in the labour force and less likely to be employed

  • more likely to have a lower annual personal income

  • less likely to be partnered.

In each of the three surveys, rates of disability were much higher among older people than younger people. [4]

Also, Māori had consistently higher rates of disability than people in the European and ‘Other' ethnic group. [5]


[1] The Disability Surveys were carried out by Statistics New Zealand following each Census.

[2] Information from this review will be published by the Office for Disability Issues in early 2011.

[3] Adults are defined as people who are aged 15 years and over.

[4] For example, in 2006, 45% of people aged 65 and older had an impairment compared with 10% for people under 15, 9% for people 15-44, and 20% for people 45-64.

[5] For example, in 2006, 19% of Māori had an impairment, 18% of European people had an impairment, and 11% of "other" ethnicity had an impairment.


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