Cover of the BIM

Part 7: Aligned portfolios – recognising and valuing the Contribution of disabled New Zealanders

Role of the Minister Responsible for Disability Issues

The Minister responsible for Disability Issues has a whole-of-government advocacy role on behalf of disabled New Zealanders. In particular, the Minister is responsible for developing a strategy for Government’s overall direction for the disability sector and for improving disability support services. This includes consulting with organisations and individuals in the development of the strategy and reporting regularly on its implementation.

Office for Disability Issues

The Office for Disability Issues supports effective and appropriate Government policy on issues related to disabled people through collaboration between disabled people, Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and their families, the wider disability sector, and Government. It has six full-time staff, headed by the Director of the Office for Disability Issues. The key functions of the Office are to:

  • facilitate and coordinate development of cross-government actions to implement and monitor progress against the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the New Zealand Disability Strategy
  • provide information and advice on issues affecting disabled people, based on sector engagement and understanding of good practice, statistics and other evidence
  • assess, monitor and report on the overall progress and wellbeing of disabled people in New Zealand
  • provide advice and information to support the Minister for Disability Issues to advocate for better outcomes for disabled people
  • promote and support direct engagement between government agencies and disabled people
  • provide independent and second-opinion advice to government agencies.

Current issues and trends

Disabled people represent a large proportion of the New Zealand population

The number of people identifying as disabled is increasing. This is as a result of both the ageing population and changes in the public perception of disability, which may lead more people to report limitations on their ability to carry out daily tasks.

The 2013 Disability Survey showed 24% of New Zealanders (1.1 million people) identified as having a long-lasting physical, sensory, mental or other functional impairment that limited their ability to function. The survey found that:

  • people aged over 65 were more likely to be disabled (59%) than adults under 65 (21%) and children under 15 years (11%)
  • the most common disability was physical, except for children, for whom the most common disability related to their ability to learn (53%)
  • the most common cause of child disabilities was a condition that existed at birth, while for adults it was disease or illness acquired after birth
  • more than half of all disabled people (53%) had more than one disability
  • Māori had an above average disability rate (26%), despite having a younger average age than the rest of the population. In contrast, the disability rate for Pasifika was below average (19%).

Disabled people are a diverse population

There is a wide range of voices and perspectives in the disability sector, typically based on impairment type (such as being Deaf, Blind, or having a learning disability and/or a physical disability). In addition, families and carers have their own concerns, as do support providers, who tend to focus on an impairment type and/or on a particular aspect of life (such as residential care or employment).

Disabled people experience poorer outcomes against wellbeing indicators

Disabled people share every New Zealander’s expectation of getting a ‘fair go’ so they can make a good life for themselves and for those who depend on them. But some disabled people do not get the chance to lead ordinary lives. They experience barriers to equal opportunity, which can reinforce atypical outcomes (such as not being expected to work or contribute to society, having relationships or families, or living their lives in segregated settings).

Working to improve results for disabled people

Government has a leadership role in seeing that disabled people have greater independence and the same choices and control over their lives as others. The key vehicles for achieving this are the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the New Zealand Disability Strategy and the Disability Action Plan.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

The CRPD is an international human rights treaty that protects the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. The CRPD has served as the major catalyst in the global movement from viewing disabled people as objects of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing them as full and equal members of society, with human rights.

Parties to the CRPD are required to promote, protect, and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by disabled people and ensure they enjoy full equality under the law. One of the obligations of the CRPD is to consult closely with and actively involve disabled people, including children with disabilities, through their representative organisations in the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the Convention. This also includes other decision-making processes concerning issues relating to disabled people.

New Zealand ratified the CRPD in September 2008 and must report on its progressive implementation to the United Nations every four years. New Zealand’s first report was submitted in 2011 and was examined in September 2014. Cabinet has recognised the Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Ombudsmen, and the Convention Coalition9 as independent monitors of government’s implementation of the Convention.

New Zealand’s international leadership of disability issues was reflected in the nomination of Robert Martin as a candidate for the 2016 elections for the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The New Zealand Disability Strategy

Developed in early 2001 in consultation with disabled people and the wider disability sector, the New Zealand Disability Strategy presents a long-term plan for changing New Zealand from a disabling to an inclusive society.

The Disability Strategy provides a framework for Government to use when developing and implementing policies and services that impact on disabled people’s lives. This includes the concept of ‘nothing about us without us’ - the idea that no policy should be developed without the full and direct participation of disabled people affected by that policy.

Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues

The Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues provides leadership, accountability, and coordination across government on disability issues. It sets priorities for, and monitors, the implementation of the CRPD and the Disability Strategy. A Chief Executives’ Group on Disability Issues10 supports the Committee.

The Disability Action Plan sets out the priorities of the Ministerial Committee with an emphasis on areas that require cross-agency collaboration and the achievement of common results. The 2014-18 Plan was co-developed with DPOs.

Encouraging a fundamental shift in attitudes and behaviour towards disabled people

Think Differently is a social change campaign to encourage and support a fundamental shift in attitudes and behaviour towards disabled people. It commissions research and evaluation to strengthen the campaign’s messages and to use the best evidence about what makes people change the way they think and behave.

The campaign provides opportunities for all New Zealanders to make a difference by:

bringing communities together to build capacity for change

communicating through the Think Differently website and Facebook page

administering the Making a Difference Fund, which provides funding for projects that support a fundamental shift in attitudes and behaviour towards disabled people.

The Think Differently campaign aligns with the priority areas in the Government’s Disability Action Plan.

Future opportunities

There are several emerging and strategic opportunities to progress government policy on issues related to disabled people that are within the influence/mandate of the Office for Disability Issues and the disability issues portfolio.

Improving the relationship between the Government and disabled people

Experience has shown that it is often difficult for Government to develop quality policies and plans on issues that concern disabled people given the complex range of interrelated barriers disabled people face.

The current Disability Action Plan was developed using a new collaborative and co-design approach between DPOs and agencies. This approach enabled agencies to be better informed about the barriers disabled people face, as well as to hear disabled people’s ideas for practical solutions. It also helped DPOs to develop a good understanding of the way government works, which in turned helped agencies provide more relevant and targeted advice to government.

There is now an opportunity to use this experience to improve the relationship between agencies and DPOs, and the disability sector more broadly, to develop quality policies that make a real difference in the lives of disabled people.

A coherent and modernised strategy for the future

The Disability Strategy’s vision of an inclusive, enabling society remains relevant to disabled people today. It is, however, a good time for the Disability Strategy to be reviewed so that it can bridge the gap between the CRPD and the Disability Action Plan. In this way, a new Disability Strategy can articulate the Government’s vision of progressive implementation of the CRPD. It can also provide a framework for future Disability Action Plans, ensuring a coherent, coordinated and streamlined overarching framework.

A review also offers an opportunity to model good collaboration between DOPs and agencies.

Promoting and maintaining New Zealand Sign Language

Due to be established by the end of 2014, the New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) Advisory Board will contribute to the promotion and maintenance of NZSL. The Board’s functions are to:

  • advise the Minister for Disability Issues on measures to give effect to NZSL as an official language in New Zealand
  • progress government priorities for NZSL by developing and coordinating the implementation of a three-year action plan
  • provide advice on allocation of the NZSL Fund (providing grants for projects that promote and maintain NZSL) and to oversee the expenditure of that fund.

The Office for Disability Issues provides the secretariat for the Board and administers the funding allocated through the NZSL Fund. We will work with your Office to provide advice and support on the establishment of the Board.


9: The Convention Coalition is a group of national Disabled People’s Organisations and consists of the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand, Balance New Zealand, Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand, Deafblind (NZ) Inc, Disabled Persons Assembly (New Zealand) Inc, Ngāti Kāpo o Aotearoa Inc, Ngā Hau E Whā and People First New Zealand Inc – Nga Tangata Tuahtahi.

10: This group comprises the Chief Executives of the Ministries of Social Development (Chair), Justice, Health, Education, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Business, Innovation and Employment, and Transport, Housing New Zealand, ACC and a sector representative.