Kōrero: Disability and disability organisations

In the past, many people with disability were excluded from participation in education, employment, sport and many leisure activities. Since the 1970s attitudes to disability have been changing. Disabled people have increasingly advocated for themselves and run their own organisations. They now represent their country in sport and succeed in many fields. About 24% of New Zealanders have some form of disability.

He kōrero nā Martin Sullivan
Te āhua nui: Paralympian Adam Hall celebrates his gold medal win

He korero whakarapopoto

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Until around 1900 a person with disability was usually cared for by their family. Many people were disabled by accidents or injuries, in occupations such as in mining or forestry.

Early organisations

Two early organisations for disabled people were:

  • the Sumner Deaf and Dumb Institution in Christchurch (now the Van Asch Deaf Education Centre), founded in 1880
  • the Jubilee Institute for the Blind (later the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind and now Blind and Low Vision NZ), which opened in Auckland in 1890.


Many soldiers were disabled in wars, particularly the First World War. More than 1,000 New Zealand soldiers had limbs amputated during the war. Institutions were set up to care for them and servicemen with other health needs, including shell shock.

Changing attitudes

Over time, attitudes to people with disability and how to help them have changed. A person with disability used to be seen as needing charity, and were often put into institutions. In the 20th century disability became seen as a medical problem to be cured, if possible. From the 1970s it was argued that people had impairments rather than disabilities, and that it was other people’s attitudes and the built environment that stopped those with impairments from fully participating in society. Many large institutions that cared for disabled people closed, and community care became favoured.

Organisations for people with disabilities

Most organisations for people with disabilities are run by people without a disability, although this has been changing. Some of the most important organisations are:

  • Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (now Blind and Low Vision NZ)
  • National Foundation for the Deaf
  • CCS Disability Action, which focuses on people with physical disability
  • IHC New Zealand, for people with intellectual disability.

Disabled peoples organisations

Some organisations are run by people with disabilities themselves. They include:

  • Disabled Persons Assembly
  • Ngāti Kāpo o Aotearoa, an organisation for Māori with disabilities
  • the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand
  • Aotearoa Network of Psychiatric Survivors
  • Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand.

Sports organisations

Organisations for disabled people who are involved in sports include:

  • Paralympics New Zealand, for physically disabled sportspeople
  • Special Olympics New Zealand, for athletes with intellectual disabilities
  • Deaf Sport Federation of New Zealand.

Disability rates

Around 24% of New Zealanders have some kind of disability.

As people age, they are more likely to have a disability. Men are slightly more likely to have a disability than women.

Common impairments

The most common impairments in adults affect

  • mobility – having difficulty walking short distances
  • hearing
  • agility – not being able to bend.

The most common impairments in children are learning and speech difficulties.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Martin Sullivan, 'Disability and disability organisations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/disability-and-disability-organisations (accessed 26 May 2024)

He kōrero nā Martin Sullivan, i tāngia i te 5 o Mei 2011, i tātarihia i te 12 o Hūrae 2018