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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/our-work/disability/practice-when-working-with-disabled-people/upholding-the-rights-and-mana-of-disabled-people-and-tangata-whaikaha-maori/
Printed: 26/04/2024
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Last updated: 03/10/2022

Upholding the rights and mana of disabled people and tāngata whaikaha Māori

Disability is understood and accepted as a part of the diversity of the human experience and disabled people are treated with dignity and respect in all our interactions with them.

Developing relational and inclusive practice

This guidance seeks to support our development of relational and inclusive practice – building relationships with tamariki, rangatahi, whānau or family living with disability, and having an appreciation not just of the individual but of their social and whānau context, their positioning within it, their interactions with it and their daily experiences.

When working with disabled people, we need to have an understanding of their inherent rights, the mātauranga (knowledge) that informs us and contemporary issues for disabled people and the disability community.  This guidance, and the following prompts, will help us reflect on and develop our knowledge and understanding:

  • How is an understanding of the rights of disabled people, with particular regard to the rights of tāngata whaikaha Māori, informing my practice?
  • How will I ensure my practice includes an understanding of diversity of lived experience and what it means for disabled tamariki and rangatahi I’m working with?
  • What personal experience of whaikaha (ability/disability) do I have and how is this influencing my practice? How am I exploring my own responses, views and assumptions of disabled people?

Disability, identity and experience

The language we use influences the way people with disabilities are treated. It can promote equality and inclusion, or it can contribute to discrimination and exclusion.

There are different views on the language used around disability, particularly in terms of identifying as a disabled person or as a person with a disability.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) uses the language 'person with disabilities'. However, and as advised by the disability community, New Zealanders are encouraged to use the language adopted for the New Zealand Disability Strategy 2016–26 – 'disabled people'. For many, the wording 'disabled people' is a move towards recognition of the social model of disability, which recognises people are disabled by the way society views and responds to them.

Not all members of the disability community identify with disability-focused language. Deaf people may identify as part of the Deaf community with its own unique language and culture and do not always identify as being disabled. The New Zealand Disability Strategy notes that most Māori disabled people identity as Māori first, with their cultural identity, whakapapa and connection to te ao Māori being central to how they live their lives. Māori involved with the disability sector have developed terms that reflect their identity as a person first and as disabled second:

Whaikaha means to have strength, to have ability, and to be enabled. It is a strength-based term and includes all disabilities.

Tāngata whaikaha means people who are determined to do well, or is certainly a goal that they reach for. It fits nicely with the goals and aims of people with disabilities who are determined in some way to do well and create opportunities for themselves as opposed to being labelled, as in the past.

Maaka Tibble, founding member of the Māori Disability Leadership Group, 2016 (PDF 353 KB)

Tangata/tāngata whaikaha Māori is used to specifically describe Māori with disabilities.

Whānau hauā is an 'umbrella' term for Māori with disabilities and reflects te ao Māori perspectives and collective orientation. This term emphasises that the disabled individual is firmly located within the collective, as part of a wider whānau – disability and oranga are collective issues for the whānau and not just for the individual.

Whānau hauā – Whai mātauranga in relational and inclusive disability practice

In 2022, Aotearoa New Zealand established Whaikaha – the Ministry of Disabled People to give a voice to the disabled community. The Ministry will work in partnership with the community and Māori to transform the disability system, changing the lives of many New Zealanders. The name of the new Ministry has meaning for the whole disabled community and reflects a positive view of disability.

Finding our names | Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People  

Ko wai au? Who am I? Everyone has the right to determine how they want to describe themselves. We listen to how te tamaiti, rangatahi, whānau or family we are working with refer to themselves and we use the same language. If we’re still unsure, we ask them.

Language used in this guidance

This practice guidance seeks to support our practice in relating with, understanding with, planning with, acting with and reflecting with tamariki and rangatahi and their whānau or family with disabilities. It seeks to embed our disability practice within our practice approach – framed by te Tiriti o Waitangi, supported by a mana-enhancing paradigm for practice, and drawing on te ao Māori principles of oranga (wellbeing).

While we recognise that contemporary concepts of disability are diverse, this guidance has adopted the following terms:

  • 'disabled person/people' to refer to a person or people with disabilities
  • 'tangata/tāngata whaikaha Māori' to refer to a Māori person or people with disabilities
  • 'disabled tamariki or rangatahi' to refer to tamariki or rangatahi with disabilities
  • 'tamariki or rangatahi whaikaha' to refer to tamariki or rangatahi Māori with disabilities.

Diversity of lived experience

Disabled people are part of the vast and diverse human experience. Just like other communities, the disability community is made up of people who experience life in different ways. Every human being is a unique individual within the context of their whakapapa and cultural identities.

[Disabled people] include 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.

Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD)

In 2013, one in four New Zealanders identified as disabled. Like all people, disabled people have their ethnicities, gender and sexual identities, gender roles and expectations, cultures, and socioeconomic positions. The way we inhabit a weave of identities is often referred to as 'intersectionality'.

Two people with the same impairment may experience different opportunities and barriers because of who they are, their culture and whakapapa, their personality and life experiences, where they live and how they are treated by the people and institutions around them. Time and context in a person’s life and when their impairment(s) was acquired also informs what barriers or opportunities they may experience and how they may feel about them. The experience of a tamaiti born with a disability will likely be different from that of an adult who acquires a disability as a result of a workplace accident. Identity and intersectionality are sources of strength. For example, a person can draw strength from the collective aspects of their identity as tangata whenua, as tangata whaikaha and as part of the rainbow community. It also shapes how the world treats us and how others see us. We need to seek to understand how the overlapping of multiple identities (age, gender, sexuality, race, culture, disability) and experiences come together, shaping how an individual experiences the world, including their exposure to singular or multiple forms of discrimination or oppression.  

In Aotearoa New Zealand, colonisation has created a diverse range of structural inequities that have led to the oppression of Māori. Although the inequities tāngata whaikaha Māori face are diverse, they all sit within the broader context of colonisation. Tāngata whaikaha Māori have lived experiences and challenges that other disabled people do not, due to the intersecting effects of colonisation and systemic racism. The intersection of indigeneity and disability leads to even greater inequities for tāngata whaikaha Māori.

Ko wai au? Who am I? When we work with disabled people, labels or diagnoses alone will not give us a full understanding of the issues, challenges or opportunities they experience. We seek to understand the disabled person and their whānau or family’s experience of disability and how they think it impacts on the oranga (wellbeing) of the individual and whānau or family as a collective and on their aspirations for advancing their oranga.

Resources on intersectionality

Video – Kimberlé Crenshaw at Ted + Animation | YouTube

Video – Kids explain intersectionality (SOY Supporting Our Youth) | YouTube

Paper – Negotiating multiple identities: Intersecting identities among Māori, Pacific, rainbow and disabled young people | Youth19 Research Group

Webinar – Fairness and equality among New Zealand high school students: A focus on Māori, Pacific, rainbow and disabled youth | Youth19 Research Group

Paper – Whakamanahia Te Tiriti, Whakahaumarutia te Tangata – Honour the Treaty, Protect the person | Human Rights Commission

The rights of disabled people and tāngata whaikaha Māori

Ngākau whakairo is the practice framework domain that covers rights, values and professional obligations. This is the heart of our work embedded within our practice.

Ngākau whakairo – Rights

At the heart of our work with all disabled tamariki and rangatahi and their whānau or family is the recognition of their inherent rights. We apply a human rights framework to our practice, and we practise in ways that strive to see the rights of all disabled people realised.

The rights of disabled people are enshrined in a number of legal frameworks, international conventions and our professional obligations, and we have an ethical and legal obligation to protect them.

A number of legal frameworks and conventions apply for the tamariki, rangatahi and whānau or family we work with, and we need to understand and uphold them all when working with disabled people. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCPRD) is an overarching human rights document for disabled people. It reaffirms that all people with all types of disability must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Aotearoa New Zealand showed its commitment by ratifying the UNCPRD in 2008.

What this means when working with disabled people and tāngata whaikaha Māori

Ngākau whakairo – rights, values and professional obligations – sits at the heart of the Oranga Tamariki practice framework. The rights frameworks and our values and professional obligations weave together to provide a korowai (cloak) of protection and rights around disabled people, particularly tamariki and rangatahi whaikaha.

The Disability Action Plan 2019–23 is the government’s vehicle for implementing the New Zealand Disability Strategy 2016–26.

The Disability Strategy is the government’s vehicle for meeting our obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCPRD).

The frameworks and conventions individually and collectively emphasise the following work of Oranga Tamariki.


  • Disabled people, with special regard to tāngata whaikaha Māori, are entitled to equal protection and equal benefit of the law.
  • Disabled people have the right to protection from discrimination.
  • Disabled people are entitled to enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions that ensure dignity and facilitate their active participation in the community.
  • Disabled tamariki and rangatahi have full enjoyment of all human rights on an equal basis with other tamariki and rangatahi, including rights to family life.

Self-determination and tino rangatiratanga

  • Disabled people, with special regard to tāngata whaikaha Māori and their whānau, hapū and iwi, have the right to make their own decisions and control their lives, as well as to participate in decision-making that affects them.
  • Disabled people have the right to individual autonomy, including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons, full and effective participation and inclusion in society.
  • Disabled tamariki and rangatahi (as for all disabled people) have the right to express their views, be heard and be active participants in decisions that relate to them. Where support is required to make decisions, a process of supported decision-making (SDM) should be used.

Whānau and family

  • The importance of family, family group, whānau, hapū and iwi as central to the oranga (wellbeing) of disabled people is evident across the conventions and frameworks, and within the obligations and responsibilities in respect to mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga in the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.

VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai provides advocacy for tamariki and rangatahi with care experience and a specialised service (Tangata Whaikaha) for disabled tamariki and rangatahi who need support with communication and are involved with Oranga Tamariki. This is a practical way to give effect to the right of disabled tamariki and rangatahi to express their views and to effect participation in decision-making.

VOYCE support for tamariki or rangatahi whaikaha (disabled tamariki or rangatahi) with communication impairments

Leaflet – Let’s talk about supported decision-making | Auckland Disability Law

When rights appear to be in tension

Human rights protect a variety of interests and can be held individually or collectively (for example, whakapapa is a collective right) and there are occasions in practice where rights may appear to conflict with other rights. Work with tamariki, rangatahi and whānau or family is often at the crossroads of reconciling these rights, especially in considerations of oranga (wellbeing) and where there are safety, protection or care issues.

We must support the best interests of disabled tamariki and rangatahi, their right to whānau or family life, their right to be cared for by their parents or whānau or family, and their right to be safe and protected from harm and abuse. We must also support the rights of their parents, including disabled parents. In such decision-making, there needs to be a conscious awareness of the holistic and related elements and dimensions of oranga so that the rights of parents, family or whānau, hapū or iwi, and the rights of tamariki and rangatahi are preserved and protected to the greatest extent possible. Ensuring we see disabled tamariki and rangatahi in the context of their whakapapa will help us understand that the rights of tamariki and rangatahi are inextricably linked to the oranga of their whānau, hapū and iwi. Respecting both collective and individual rights will assist us at times when rights appear to be in conflict.

We can read the various frameworks and conventions individually, or the Human Rights Commission’s report ‘Honour the Treaty, Protect the Person'.
Whakamanahia Te Tiriti, Whakahaumarutia te Tangata – Honour the Treaty, Protect the person | Human Rights Commission