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Introduction

The first comprehensive survey on disability in New Zealand was conducted in 1996. The Disability Survey: 1996 measured the nature, extent and causes of disability in New Zealand, and provided information on the socio-demographic characteristics of disabled people. It also provided information on disability-related expenses incurred by individuals and families, and unmet needs for services and support.

The survey was repeated in 2001 and 2006 using the same methodology and with only minimal changes to the survey content. This resulted in output that was broadly comparable between the three surveys, enabling changes to be tracked over time. Because the survey content has not been modified in response to real world changes, its relevance has reduced over time.

The next disability survey is scheduled to take place in 2011. In view of developments relating to disability internationally and in New Zealand over the past decade, it is timely to review the content of the disability survey to ensure that statistics generated are relevant to current and emerging needs and conform with international best practice.

Significant amongst the developments that have occurred are:

  • the introduction of the International Classificat on of Functioning, Disability and Health by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which replaces the International Classification of Impairments, Disability and Handicaps (ICIDH)
  • the development of The New Zealand Disability Strategy (Office for Disability Issues, Ministry of Social Development, 2001)
  • the development of The New Zealand Carers’ Strategy and Five-year Action Plan 2008 (Ministry of Social Development, 2008a)
  • the ratification by the New Zealand Government of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

These developments have seen the formerly medical model of disability, which describes people with disabilities as suffering from illness or disease, to be largely superseded by the social model. In contrast to the medical model, the social model emphasises that attitudinal, behavioural and physical barriers created by society hinder the independence and participation in society of people
with disabilities. The social model is associated with recognition that people with disabilities have the same human rights as their non-disabled peers.

An evidence base is needed to fulfil the reporting requirements of The NZ Disability Strategy and the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Official statistics form part of this evidence base. They are needed to provide an objective picture of changes in the outcomes and experiences of disabled people across a range of domains.

The New Zealand Carers’ Strategy and Five-year Action Plan 2008 was released in August 2008 and aims to improve the choices of informal carers so they can better balance their paid work, caring responsibilities and other aspects of their lives. Monitoring progress of implementation of the strategy and whether it is achieving its vision will require information on the families and carers
of people with disabilities.

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