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Published 31 October 2023

You may not have heard of the groups throughout New Zealand making your life easier. It’s thanks to the strong voice of Disability Advisory Groups in regional councils, that our towns and cities are being paved for an inclusive future.

Take a moment to celebrate these unsung heroes and explore how they’re shaping the future of disability advocacy in Aotearoa.

Who are they and what do they do?

There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to disability and the same can be said for our advisory groups (sometimes called reference groups). Each one is different and shaped according to what they recognise their community to need most.  Just take a look at these examples.

Blue beach mat linking the footpath to the waterfront

Check out the Community bought beach mats


Advocating for accessibility: How Tauranga is built, organised and even their technology is changing to prioritise accessibility thanks to the team collaborating with the Tauranga Disability Advisory Group.

As the home place of some of the best beaches in Aotearoa, the council trialled beach mats in 2016 that changed everything. In Mount Manganui Disabled whānau finally had a clear path from the walkway to the water’s edge, it was described as a game-changer for locals.

One trial later, the Tauranga Moana community rallied together and managed to fundraise enough money to let the mats stay. The council backed the community even further and put money towards installing beach matting in two other locations. Pilot Bay and Marine Parade.

Check out where to find accessible beaches and times by visiting our accessible beaches page. Find Tauranga accessible beach (external link)


Changing standards: The advisory panel advocating within New Zealand’s largest supercity, Te Rōpū Kaitohutohu Take Hunga Hauā aren’t shying away from tackling the hefty disability issues. In 2019 they took on accessible housing alongside Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero (now chief executive of Whaikaha Ministry of Disabled people).

Ten members make up the Advisory Group all with different abilities.

Your Auckland Disability Advisory Group

Fast forward to today, the council has a Universal Design section for their Auckland Design Manual. This online handbook encourages developers to include accessibility features when building a home. In the section you can find:

  • Design Personas list examples of people at different stages of life, like a wheelchair user, a person who is Deaf, or a hapu mama (pregnant woman). This helps builders understand who they might be building for.
  • Accessible Space Dimensions shows how much space people might need if they have a disability. Like a person with an assistance dog would need a door that stretches 1100mm wide to walk through freely.
  • Universal design checklist for building a home with friendly features that suit almost everyone. 

Building relationships: The Hāpai Access Card is a Canterbury scheme that lets people know which cafes, restaurants and accommodations are accessible, and alerts business as to what kind of support their customers need. And, it’s the brainchild of a Disability Advisory Group.

In the early 2000s. Christchurch City Council and their Accessible Advisory Group wanted to encourage disabled people to get out and be active in their communities.  The KiwiAble Leisure Card was born.

KiwiAble offered discounts to people with disabilities throughout the Canterbury region. Discounts included pools, fitness centres and other attractions to encourage disabled people to get out and be active.

In 2017 the council went one step further and replaced KiwiAble with the Hāpai Access Card. With over 178 Canterbury business’s part of their Directory, the Hāpai Access Card helps connect disabled whānau to their communities by recognising and removing barriers they generally face.

Hāpai Access Card is a white a green rectangle background with a photo at the top right. Text reads Welcome here, ID Number and Expiry date.

Check out the Christchurch based Hāpai Access Card

A huge thank you to everyone who is part of the amazing disability advisory groups helping guide the way towards a more mana-enhancing Aotearoa.

Keen to find out more or be a voice for your community? Check out your disability advisory council group today.