Standing up for your rights

Advocacy is to do with rights. The main goal of advocacy is to ensure that a person’s ‘voice’ is heard and their rights are recognised and realised. Disability Advocacy ensures the human and legal rights of people with disabilities are promoted and protected so that people with intellectual disabilities are valued and they can enjoy satisfying lives.


Self-advocacy means advocating for yourself, standing up for your rights with the support needed.

An advocate supporting and/or working with people with intellectual disabilities will ensure that their right to advocate for themselves is upheld. An advocate will support a person with an intellectual disability to make decisions and to speak up for themselves. This may include providing information and advice to assist them to advocate for themselves and others with intellectual disabilities.

Individual advocacy

Individual advocacy is when a person is assisted by an advocate who, with their permission, advocates on their behalf. You always need to get a person’s permission to be their advocate.

For informal situations such as supporting someone at a meeting, verbal permission may be sufficient. If, however, you are requesting personal information from organisations or advocating on a person’s behalf, it is advisable to get written consent. If at any time you think you may have a conflict of interest, you need to declare it, and discuss whether you are still the best person to act as the advocate.

Systemic advocacy

Systemic advocacy is about social change. It addresses laws, systems or structures that adversely affect people with intellectual disabilities and their families by advocating for change. Systemic advocacy includes lobbying politicians, campaigning and the raising of public awareness.

What an advocate does

An advocate

  • Listens carefully – this means finding out what the individual or group is actually saying, not what you think they should be saying
  • Communicates clearly and often
  • Is creative and tries different approaches – don’t give up if your first idea doesn’t bring a solution
  • Is assertive – takes a firm stand and sticks to it without getting angry or going on the attack
  • Is persistent – some issues take a long time to resolve. A good advocate must be willing to ‘hang in there’ until the issue is resolved and not back off if it becomes difficult or time-consuming

Advocacy processes

A strategic approach to advocacy delivers the best results. Identify and focus on 'the bit' that is broken.

  • Define the issue – the presenting problem is not always the real one
  • Identify who the issue affects
  • Find out when the problem started and how long it has been happening
  • Try to identify the cause of the issue
  • Agree on the desired outcome

Policy and Legislation

A basic knowledge of relevant policy and legislation will help you to prepare and implement an advocacy plan. The New Zealand Legislation website provides free public access to unofficial versions of New Zealand statutes (Public, Local, and Private Acts) and statutory regulations.

The New Zealand Disability Strategy

The New Zealand Disability Strategy recognises that people with disabilities have the same rights as all other citizens. The Minister for Disability Issues is required to report annually to Parliament on progress made by government departments in implementing the Strategy.

New Zealand Law

  • Human Rights Act 1993 (and amendments)
  • New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990
  • Privacy Act 2020
  • Official Information Act 1982
  • Education and Training Act 2020
  • Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988
  • Oranga Tamariki Act 1989/Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989
  • Care of Children Act 2004
  • Employment Relations Act 2000
  • Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994
  • The Health and Disability Commissioner (Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights) Regulations 1996

International Law

New Zealand has signed and ratified a number of international human rights treaties and conventions that place obligations on our government. When a government ratifies a treaty or convention it is agreeing to do its best to implement and enforce rights in the treaty or convention.

Some significant international law instruments are:

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC)
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)
  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The Convention aims to promote, protect, and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and freedoms by all people with disabilities. New Zealand signed the Convention in 2007 and ratified it in 2008. The full text of the convention is available at the UNCRPD website.

Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled people

Whaikaha - Ministry of Disabled People is a new ministry set up in partnership with the disabled community and Māori to transform the lives of many New Zealanders.

The Ministry aims to remove the barriers that disabled people face and transform the disability system in line with the Enabling Good Lives approach.

Office for Disability Issues

The Office for Disability Issues sits within Whaikaha. The Office is responsible for promoting and monitoring implementation of the Disability Strategy and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Alongside government monitoring, the office uses an independent reporting mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the Convention that involves the Human Rights Commission, Office of the Ombudsman and the Convention Coalition of Disabled People's Organisations. The Office has responsibility for the development and implementation of the Disability Action Plan, which sets out New Zealand's priorities to advance implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the New Zealand Disability Strategy.

Advocacy Services in New Zealand

Ideally everyone with an intellectual disability has a person in their life that can support them to advocate for themselves or to advocate on their behalf if needed.

Below are some services that can help you make complaints or provide advocacy or information:

Auckland Disability Law

Free Auckland-based service that helps disabled people access legal services.

09 257 5140

Auckland Disability Law website

Banking Ombudsman

Free, external and independent processes to help people sort out their unresolved problems with banks.

0800 805 950

Banking Ombudsman website

Children’s Commissioner

Makes inquiries and reports on matters that relate to the rights, welfare, or interests of children.

0800 22 44 53

Children’s Commissioner website

Citizen Advocacy Auckland

Promotes one-to-one relationships between people who have intellectual disabilities and committed citizens.

09 366 4545

Citizen Advocacy Auckland website

Community Law Centres

Provide community legal services including free legal advice.

Community Law Centres website

Dunedin Friend-Link Trust

Assists people with intellectual disabilities to make friends and participate more fully in community life.

03 474 1335

Dunedin Friend-Link Trust website

Health and Disability Advocacy Service

Free, confidential, and independent. Advocates assist people with making sure their rights are respected. They help consumers to resolve complaints about health or disability services.

0800 555 050

Health and Disability Advocacy Service website

Human Rights Commission

Facilitates resolution of disputes about discrimination.

0800 496 877

Human Rights Commission website

Office of the Ombudsman

Investigates complaints about central and local government agencies.

0800 802 602

Office of the Ombudsman website

Parent to Parent New Zealand

Has advocates in some areas who are parents of children and young people with disabilities.

0508 236 236

Parent to Parent New Zealand website

Personal Advocacy and Safeguarding Adults Trust

Provides personal advocacy for people with intellectual disability. Can also assist with safeguarding issues for adults with intellectual disability.

0800 728 7878

Personal Advocacy and Safeguarding Adults Trust website

Privacy Commissioner

Investigates complaints about breaches of privacy.

0800 803 909

Privacy Commissioner website


Specialist nationwide community law centre for children and young people with particular expertise in education law.

0800 884 529

YouthLaw website

If you have any questions call our Community Connect phone line 9am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday on 0800 442 311

How we can help