Access by Various artists


Who Are Disabled New Zealanders?

by Sacha Dylan

Disabled people are part of every community and grouping in New Zealand. However, most surveys do not ask about us, and we’re poorly understood for various reasons. Let’s start fixing that together.

How many

Official Census results every five years or so say disabled people are between 1/6th and 1/5th of all New Zealanders.

That’s 750 – 900 thousand people. More than you thought, right?


More older people than younger people are disabled in some way. The impending surge in retiring ‘boomers’ is relevant, because about half of all over-65s are disabled.

Disability affects more boys than girls and more older women than older men, but matches our gender balance overall.

More Pakeha and Maori people are disabled than Pacific or Asian people – which might reflect immigration restrictions, or something else we don’t know about yet because nobody has studied it.

Disabled people tend to be poorer, less educated, and far less likely to be employed. That restricts a whole lot of options.

Impairment happens through birth, illness, accident and ageing. At what stage of our life it happens has a big impact, but is not recorded in most statistics. About half of disabled people have more than one form of impairment.

Out of every 9 disabled New Zealanders:

  • 5 have impaired mobility (getting around).
  • 3 have impaired hearing.
  • 3 have impaired thinking, understanding or remembering.
  • 3 have impaired agility (grabbing things, etc).
  • 1 has impaired vision.
  • 1 has impaired mental health.

How impaired?

It’s also a matter of degree:

  • Most people with impaired mobility do not use wheechairs. They may just be unsteady on their feet or have trouble climbing stairs or walking long distances. Only 1 in 10 mobility parking permit holders have wheelchairs – please think about that before you abuse the other 9.
  • Most people with impaired vision are not blind. They are more likely to need larger text and clearly-marked steps rather than braille or a guide dog.
  • Most people with impaired hearing are not part of the Deaf community who share New Zealand Sign Language. Their needs can be rather different.
  • Only about half of disabled people use disability support services, equipment or organisations.
  • Only 4% of disabled people live in institutions. Most of us live in our own places or share with others like everyone else does.
  • Many disabled people don't think of ourselves as disabled most of the time. Only when we encounter disabling settings or circumstances.

Remember all of that when you’re looking for a ‘representative’ group. What would you like to know more about?

A worldwide Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License applies to this post. Sacha's personal website is here.

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