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Disability Survey: 2013
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  17 June 2014
Commentary

New Zealand Disability Survey

In 2013, we carried out a national survey on disability for the fourth time. The New Zealand Disability Survey is currently the most comprehensive source of information on disabled people in New Zealand. It allows for comparisons between disabled and non-disabled people on key social and economic outcomes.

This first release of information from the 2013 Disability Survey focuses on the prevalence of disability across population subgroups and on disability rates for specific impairment types. Information is also available from the survey on barriers that disabled people encounter in their everyday lives, including their use of and need for support services and assistive devices. Compared with earlier disability surveys, the 2013 Disability Survey includes a greater range of information about social outcomes. In addition to the economic outcomes of labour force status, income, and educational attainment, we now have information about feelings of safety and experience of crime; social contact; and access to leisure activities.

As in the three previous surveys, disability is defined as long-term limitation (resulting from impairment) in a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. The limitations identified were self-reported or reported on behalf of the disabled person by their parent or primary caregiver.

The survey collected data from adults (aged 15 years or over) and children (under 15 years) living in private households or group homes and from adults living in residential care facilities. All of these groups are included in the data, except where stated.

One in four people live with disability

In 2013, an estimated 24 percent of people living in New Zealand were identified as disabled. A total of 1,062,000 people were limited in their ability to carry out everyday activities by at least one impairment type.

Both the number of disabled people and the disability rate are higher than in earlier surveys. The proportion of the New Zealand population in older age groups is growing, and people in these age groups are more likely to be disabled than younger adults or children. However, population ageing does not account for all of the increase. People may be more willing to report their limitations as public perception of disability changes; methodological improvements to the survey could also be a contributing factor.

 Number and rate of disabled people for adults, children, and total population, 2001, 2013
 Year Children(1) (0 to 14 years) Adults (15 years or over) Total population
 

 Number

 Rate (%)

 Number

 Rate (%)

 Number

 Rate (%)

2001 92,000

11

669,000 23 762,000 20
2013 95,000 11 967,000 27 1,062,000 24
 1. Between 2001 and 2013 we changed the screening questions for children; see the data quality section.
Source: Statistics NZ

Disability increases with age

In 2013, 11 percent of children were disabled, compared with 59 percent of people aged 65 or over. Boys were more likely than girls to be disabled (13 percent and 8 percent, respectively). However, there was little difference in disability rates for men and women (aged 15 years and over).

 Number and rate of disabled people by age and sex
 Age group

 Male

 Female

 Total population

   Number Rate (%)   Number  Rate (%)  Number  Rate (%)
 Under 15 years

 60,000

 13

 35,000

 8

 95,000

 11

 15 to 44 years

 138,000

 16

 145,000

 16

 283,000

 16

 45 to 64 years

 149,000

 28

 165,000

 28

 314,000

 28

 65 years and over

 169,000

 58

 201,000

 60

 370,000

 59

 All ages

 516,000

 24

 545,000

 24

 1,062,000

 24

 Source: Statistics NZ

Disability rates vary by ethnic group

Disability rates for the four main ethnic groups were:

  • Māori – 26 percent
  • European – 25 percent
  • Pacific – 19 percent
  • Asian – 13 percent.

Māori had a higher-than-average disability rate, despite having a younger population age profile than that of the total population.

Pacific people also have a young population age profile and the Pacific disability rate was well below the national rate.

The median age of disabled people in each ethnic group was:

  • Māori – 40 years
  • European – 57 years
  • Pacific – 39 years
  • Asian – 45 years.

Bar graph showing disability rates for the Māori and European ethnic groups by age groups under 15, 15 to 44, 45 to 64, and 65 plus in 2013. Age is on the x axis and disability rate is on the y axis. The graph shows that disability rates increased by age group for both Māori and European ethnic groups, and that disability rates are higher for the Māori ethnic group in every age group.

The true extent of differences between disability rates for ethnic groups is masked by the different age profile of ethnic populations.

We adjusted disability rates to the age profile of the total population, which gave:

  • Māori – 32 percent
  • European – 24 percent
  • Pacific – 26 percent
  • Asian – 17 percent.

The age-adjusted rate is the disability rate the ethnic group would have if their population age profile was the same as that of the total population.

The age adjustment increased disability rates for the Māori, Pacific, and Asian ethnic groups, reflecting their younger age profile compared with the total population. The rate increase was smaller for Asian people due to their relatively low disability rates for older people.

Impairment type varies by sex and age

The 2013 Disability Survey asked people about their ability to carry out a range of everyday activities. Each activity was associated with a specific impairment type. Males and females, and adults and children showed differences in the extent to which they experienced different impairment types.

Bar graph showing impairment rates for males and females by impairment type in 2013. Impairment type and sex are on the x axis and impairment rate is on the y axis. The graph includes the impairment types of hearing, vision, physical, intellectual, psychological/psychiatric, and other. Physical impairment was the most common impairment type for males and females. Females had a higher rate of physical impairment. Males had a higher rate of hearing impairment.  

Bar graph showing impairment rates for adults and children by impairment type in 2013. Adults and children and impairment type are on x axis and impairment rate is on y axis. The graph includes the impairment types of hearing, vision, physical, intellectual, psychological/psychiatric, and other. Physical impairment was far more common for adults than for children, followed by hearing, then vision impairment. Rates for intellectual, psychological/psychiatric, and other were similar for adults and children.

Physical impairment is most common type

An estimated 14 percent of the New Zealand population (632,000 people) reported that a physical impairment limited their everyday activities. This was the most common impairment type for adults (15 years or over), and is one that increases strongly with age. Forty-nine percent of adults aged 65 or over were physically disabled, compared with 7 percent of adults aged less than 45 years.

Women were more likely than men to experience physical disability (20 percent compared with 15 percent). The difference by sex was evident for all adult age groups. Physical disability rates for children were low for both girls and boys (1 percent and 2 percent, respectively).

Sensory impairments limit 11 percent of people

An estimated 484,000 people (11 percent of the total population) were limited in their everyday activities by sensory impairments (hearing and vision loss) that assistive devices such as hearing aids or glasses did not eliminate. Hearing impairment affected 380,000 people (9 percent of the total population) and vision impairment affected 168,000 people (4 percent).

Hearing impairment was:

  • more likely to be experienced by men (12 percent) than women (9 percent)
  • equally likely in boys and girls (1 percent for children)
  • strongly related to age.

For adults over 65, 34 percent of men and 23 percent of women experienced hearing loss. This compares with 5 percent and 3 percent, respectively, for men and women aged 15 to 44.

Vision impairment was:

  • more likely to be experienced by women (5 percent) than men (4 percent)
  • equally likely in boys and girls (1 percent for children)
  • strongly related to age.

Eleven percent of adults over 65 years experienced vision impairment, compared with 2 percent for adults aged 15 to 44.

Intellectual disability rates low

At 2 percent of the population, rates of intellectual disability were low compared with other types of impairment.

Males were more likely to be living with intellectual disability (3 percent) than females (1 percent). This pattern was evident for both children and adults.

Psychological/psychiatric limitations affect 5 percent

An estimated 5 percent of the New Zealand population (242,000 people) were living with long-term limitations in their daily activities as a result of the effects of psychological and/or psychiatric impairments. Boys were more likely to be affected than girls, with impairment rates of 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

There was no difference by sex for adults and, although the adult rate (6 percent) was higher than the child rate (4 percent), the survey provided no evidence of rates changing with age amongst adults.

Other impairments

Four other impairment types were covered by the survey: speaking, learning, memory, and developmental delay.

A total of 358,000 adults and children (8 percent of the population) were limited by at least one of these impairment types, and males (9 percent) were more likely to be affected than females (7 percent).

Having difficulty speaking (and being understood) because of a long-term condition or medical problem affected 3 percent of the total population. Of these:

  • boys (5 percent) had a higher rate than girls (2 percent)
  • men (3 percent) had a higher rate than women (2 percent).

Having difficulty learning new things because of a long-term condition or medical problem affected 5 percent of the total population. Of these:

  • boys (7 percent) had a higher rate than girls (4 percent)
  • men (5 percent) had a higher rate than women (4 percent).

Questions about memory loss were only asked of adults. Five percent of the adult population had ongoing difficulty with their ability to remember. This impairment type rises with age. Ten percent of people aged 65 or over were affected, compared with 5 percent of those aged 45 to 64, and 2 percent of those aged 15 to 44. There were no differences by sex.

Questions about developmental delay are only asked of parents or caregivers who are responding on behalf of a child in their care. Rates were low, with only 1 percent of children affected by a diagnosed disorder or impairment that significantly delayed their development.

Multiple impairment is common

About half of all disabled people reported living with limitations arising from more than one impairment type. Forty-seven percent of disabled people indicated that they were limited by a single impairment type, while the remaining 53 percent were limited by more than one impairment type.

For adults, multiple impairment increases with age. Forty-two percent of adults aged 15 to 44 years reported being limited by more than one impairment type, compared with 63 percent of older adults (65 or over). Forty-eight percent of children had multiple impairments.

Main limitation is most likely to be physical

Physical impairment is the most common main limitation for disabled people. For an estimated 404,000 people (43 percent of the disabled population) physical limitation was either their only impairment, or was more limiting than the other impairments with which they were living.

For children, learning, psychological/psychiatric, and speaking difficulties were the three most common main impairments.

Bar graph showing percentage of disabled adults and children by main impairment type in 2013. Impairment rate is on x axis and main impairment type is on y axis. The graph includes impairment types hearing, vision, physical, intellectual, psychological/psychiatric, speaking, learning, memory, and developmental delay. Physical and hearing impairments were the most common for adults. For children, psychological/psychiatric, speaking, and learning impairments were the most common.

Main cause of impairment is disease or illness

Forty-one percent of the disabled population were limited in their daily lives by impairments that resulted from disease or illness. This was the most common cause of disabling impairment for adults (42 percent).

Accident or injury was another common cause of impairment for adults. Thirty-four percent of disabled adults were limited in their everyday lives as a result of an accident or injury. Almost half (47 percent) of adults impaired by accident or injury reported that the damage occurred at work.

The third-most common cause of impairment for adults was ageing. For 31 percent of disabled adults, ageing was the cause of at least one of the limitations they experienced. For all adults aged 65 years or over, 53 percent were limited by impairments caused by ageing.

For children, conditions that existed at birth were the most common cause of limiting impairments. Forty-nine percent of disabled children were affected by such impairments. For 33 percent of disabled children, the cause of their impairment fell under ‘other cause’. This includes conditions on the autism spectrum, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and developmental delay, as well as dyslexia and dyspraxia. While these conditions may have existed at birth they are not usually identified until later, and may be regarded by parents or caregivers as not having been present at birth.

Bar graph showing percentage of disabled adults and children by cause of impairment in 2013. Adults and children and cause of impairment are on x axis and impairment rate is on y axis. Includes causes of impairment disease or illness, accident or injury, ageing (only asked of adults), existed at birth, and other. Adults were more likely have impairments caused by disease or illness, or accident or injury. Children were more likely to have impairments that existed at birth or arose from other causes.

Māori have higher disability rates than non-Māori

Māori were more likely to be disabled (26 percent) than non-Māori (24 percent).

  • Māori adults had a disability rate of 32 percent, compared with 27 percent for non-Māori adults.
  • Māori children had a disability rate of 15 percent, compared with 9 percent for non-Māori children.

The Māori disability rate was driven by four impairment types that were significantly more likely to be experienced by Māori than non-Māori. These types were:

  • psychological/psychiatric impairments
  • difficulty with learning
  • difficulty with speaking
  • intellectual disability.

Māori also had slightly higher rates of vision impairment and slightly lower rates of mobility impairment than non-Māori.

The difference between disability rates for Māori men (32 percent) and Māori women (31 percent) was not significant. Māori boys, however, experienced disability at a higher rate than Māori girls (19 percent and 10 percent, respectively). The difference between boys and girls was driven by the same four impairment types as above: psychological/psychiatric impairments, learning, speaking, and intellectual disability. 

Bar graph showing impairment rates for Māori and non-Māori by impairment type in 2013. Impairment rate is on x axis and Māori and non-Māori and impairment type are on y axis. Graph includes impairment types of hearing, vision, mobility, agility, intellectual, psychological/psychiatric, speaking, learning, and memory. Māori had higher impairment rates for vision, intellectual, psychological/psychiatric, speaking, and learning impairments. Non-Maori had higher impairment rates for hearing and mobility.

Disability rates are lower in Auckland

Disability rates differ by region. The Auckland rate (19 percent) was significantly lower than the national average, while Bay of Plenty and Manawatu-Wanganui (both at 27 percent), Northland (29 percent), and Taranaki (30 percent) all experienced disability rates that were significantly higher than average. For the remaining regions, disability rates did not differ significantly from the national rate.

Regional information is available for adults and children living in households. The 4 percent of disabled adults living in residential care facilities are not included in the regional figures.

 Disability rates by region
 Region  Number of disabled people  Disability rate (%)
 Northland

 44,000

 29

 Auckland

 271,000

 19

 Waikato

 105,000

 25

 Bay of Plenty

 73,000

 27

 Gisborne/Hawke's Bay

 46,000

 23

 Taranaki

 36,000

 30

 Manawatu-Wanganui

 67,000

 27

 Wellington

 114,000

 22

 Canterbury

 143,000

 25

 Otago

 52,000

 26

 Southland

 27,000

 26

 Rest of South Island(1)

 41,000

 27

 New Zealand

 1,020,000

 23

 1. Includes Nelson, Tasman, Marlborough, and the West Coast regions.

The younger age structure of the Auckland population partly explains the lower Auckland disability rate. The Auckland region had lower-than-average rates for:

  • hearing impairment (7 percent)
  • mobility impairment (10 percent)
  • agility impairment (5 percent)
  • psychological/psychiatric impairment (4 percent)
  • difficulties with speaking (2 percent).

People living in Northland had higher-than-average rates for physical limitations (19 percent) and learning difficulties (7 percent). Canterbury had a higher-than-average rate for psychological/psychiatric impairment (7 percent).

For more detailed data see the Excel tables in the ‘Downloads’ box.

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