Tāngata Whaikaha | Disabled people

Definition of disabled

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines disabled people as “those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

The most recent Statistics NZ Disability Survey reports that 24% of the total New Zealand population are disabled, equating to approximately 1.2 million people.

Horopaki | Situation

Disabled people are more likely to face significant barriers to entry and participation in employment and also experience ongoing adverse labour market outcomes. We want to work with disabled people so they have a platform to confidently share their ideas, aspirations and stories, so we can better shape and influence labour market structures and work environments to support them.

To do this, we need to work closely with employers, disabled people, government agencies, training providers, partners and stakeholders, to understand the opportunities for better collaboration and how we can create mutually beneficial opportunities and pathways.

Labour market statistics from 'Stats NZ Labour Market Statistics (Disability) Survey: June 2022' make it clear that the adverse outcomes disabled people face are significant and prevalent across many key metrics. We know that:

  • Disabled people experience lower employment. 42% of working age disabled people were employed vs 80% of non-disabled people.
  • Disabled people work fewer hours. 26% of employed disabled people worked part-time compared with 17% of non-disabled people.
  • Disabled people have lower incomes. In the June 2022 quarter disabled people aged 15-64 had a mean income of $662 per week compared with $1,125 for non-disabled people.
  • Disabled people face higher living costs. These costs could include medicine, physiotherapy, or transport, alongside additional costs such as assistive computer software or technology.

These metrics are influenced by the barriers disabled people face in the labour market and we want to work to remove and mitigate these and bring meaningful change. Unlocking the potential of disabled people would benefit businesses and employers, whilst also helping disabled people live more connected and engaged lives, where their skills and experiences are utilised and valued. 

Ngā taero | Complications

The labour market that disabled people need to navigate is not an even playing field, with significant and widespread barriers that contribute to the adverse labour market outcomes they experience.

A significant barrier is the prevalence of negative employer perceptions around hiring disabled people. Because of their limited exposure and experiences working with disabled people, employers may struggle to understand what is involved in hiring a disabled person. There are often misconceptions around the financial cost of hiring a disabled person, workplace adjustments, perceived productivity, and the skills that they can bring to an organisation. This lack of understanding can have adverse effects both for employers, who miss out on the advantages and benefits of hiring disabled people, and disabled people who miss out on workforce opportunities.

There are several programmes that raise awareness with employers on ways of removing employment barriers for disabled people, but these do not have the reach or visibility that they need. For some, the gap between negative employer perceptions and the reality in employing disabled people can often lead to disabled people with the requisite skills, training and qualifications missing out on roles they would otherwise get.

Our key aim is to promote the benefits and examples of disabled people in the workplace. We know the value of successful programmes like the Ministry of Social Development’s 2010 - 2015 ‘Think Differently’ campaign, and ‘Works For Me’ video are impactful positive examples of labour market success stories, but the reach of these stories needs to be wider.

We also seek to address barriers such as inaccessible workplaces, lack of awareness of in-work support, fear of disclosure of disability, raised mainstream costs of employment (eg transport), and the impact of digital inequity.

Ngā take | Issue summary

  • Disabled people have lower rates of employment and work fewer hours.
  • Disabled people have lower incomes while facing higher living costs.
  • Some employers have misguided perceptions about hiring a disabled person.
  • Success stories and initiatives on hiring disabled people lack visibility.
  • There are additional barriers disabled people face in the labour market.

Ngā mahi | Actions

Our actions will contribute towards improved labour market outcomes for disabled people. A focus on the actions below will help address some of the issues this group face (see action table for full details):

  1. Sector perceptions
  2. Career development support
  3. Workplace diversity
  4. Best practise workplaces
  5. Digital technology workforce diversity - Neurodivergence