Te Ao Māori and disability

By Louise Ratcliffe, Information Officer

According to the Household Disability Survey from 2013 “Māori and Pacific people had higher-than-average disability rates, after adjusting for differences in ethnic population age
profiles.” 1

If we define disability as something that happens when the world is designed for one way of living, without taking into account other people’s needs or impairments, then we can start to see how a Pakeha or Euro-centric world does not take into account all the needs of Māori people, especially Tāngata Whaikaha (Te Reo Māori terminology for people with a disability, but actually translates as “to be enabled”2 ).

The current models of disability, both medical and social, frame disability in an individualised manner which does not account for Te Ao Māori being much more holistic and collective in nature.3

In addition, disability within Te Ao Māori needs to be considered within the wider context of colonisation and the disabling effect of people losing their land, language and cultural connections.4

Whaia Te Ao Marama 2018-2022: The Māori Disability Action Plan5 states that improvements have been made for Tāngata Whaikaha since 2012, but there is still a way to go to ensure all disabled people in New Zealand have the supports and resources to provide them with the good life they are entitled to.

The disability transformation going on with Mana Whaikaha and Enabling Good Lives is a step in the right direction to being a more inclusive and holistic model for supporting disabled people to achieve the life they want. Following the concepts of Te Whare Tapa Wha6 and including a person’s sense of self, their cultural identity, their faith and their connection to family, whānau and their wider community as an intrinsic aspect of wellbeing and achieving a good life would be beneficial to all disabled people of Aotearoa.

The six goals of Whaia Te Ao Marama to be achieved by 2022 are that Tāngata Whaikaha will:

  1. Participate in the development of health and disability services
  1. Have control over their disability support
  1. Participate in Te Ao Māori
  1. Participate in their community
  1. Receive disability support services that are responsive to Te Ao Māori
  1. Have informed and responsive communities.

We can all play a part in enabling this to be achieved by educating ourselves about Te Ao Māori, listening to Tāngata Whaikaha when planning services and supports, and actively encouraging our friends, family and whānau to get involved in the disability community around them.

Keep up with how the disability support system is transforming at

louise ratcliffe
Louise Ratcliffe
Information Officer
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