Deaf Aotearoa’s Position Statement on its role as a Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) and as a member of the DPO Coalition

October 2023

General position

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD; the Convention) states that:

“In the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the present Convention, and in other decision-making processes concerning issues relating to persons with disabilities, States Parties shall closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations.” (Article 4.3 refers[1]).

The UN’s position is reinforced by General Comment 7 [2] which states that:

State parties should give particular importance to the views of persons with disabilities, through their representative organizations, support the capacity and empowerment of such organizations and ensure that priority is given to ascertaining their views in decision-making processes” (Paragraph 13 refers).

In other words, the New Zealand Government is obliged to closely consult with and actively involve representative organisations – known as ‘Disabled People’s Organisations’ (DPO’s) – in their legislative and policy decision-making processes to implement the Convention, including co-design, co-production and co-evaluation.

Deaf Aotearoa is the leading DPO for Deaf people in New Zealand and is the only Deaf DPO that also meets the criteria for being in the DPO Coalition. No other Deaf DPO in New Zealand has DPO Coalition status.

Deaf Aotearoa has other roles, such as advocacy and service provision, and holds several contracts with the government to provide services to Deaf people and their families – from babies to seniors. Some government agencies have determined that these roles preclude Deaf Aotearoa from being consulted on as per the UNCRPD requirements on the basis that they create a conflict of interest and/or are counter to the Government’s Procurement Rules.

We strongly refute this viewpoint and affirm that our role as advocate and service provider does not – and should not – have any bearing on the Government’s obligation to consult with us as a DPO / DPO Coalition member. Deaf Aotearoa affirms that exclusion from decision-making (on any grounds) is a breach of Article 4.3 of the Convention and General Comment 7.

Background information

Being a DPO

The ‘DPO’ terminology has only been formally in use since around 2010/11, and there is no universally accepted definition of a DPO. However, DPO’s can be generically described as organisations that are led, directed, and governed by disabled people that are committed to respecting the principles and rights expressed in the UNCRPD.

Deaf Aotearoa has been a DPO since 1997. There are other Deaf DPO’s in New Zealand, but there cannot be multiple Deaf DPO’s in the DPO Coalition. Only Deaf Aotearoa has the required attributes to be a member of the DPO Coalition (as shown in Table 1 below).

There are gaps in representation. New Zealand is lacking DPO’s representing Māori, Pasifika, LGBTIQA+, children, and women and girls with disabilities. Deaf Aotearoa supports the UN Committee’s concluding observations on the combined second and third periodic reports of New Zealand that the government provides financial resources to help support the development of DPO’s to represent these groups (recommendation 56 refers[3]).

The DPO Coalition

The DPO Coalition is the central point for government departments to engage with disabled people and uphold Article 4.3 of the UNCRPD and General Comment 7.

Currently there are six DPO’s in the DPO Coalition in New Zealand. In addition to Deaf Aotearoa, these are:

  • Blind Citizens New Zealand
  • Balance Aotearoa
  • Disabled Persons Assembly NZ (DPA)
  • Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand
  • People First New Zealand

For a DPO to join the DPO Coalition, they must demonstrate certain attributes, as shown below.

Table 1: DPO attributes to be a member of the DPO Coalition

 DPO Attributes
1The organisation has a legal existence i.e. must demonstrate it exists as a group of individuals with certain rules that bind them to a common purpose or goal.
2The organisation has a national structure and focus. If the organisation has a regional focus, it demonstrates that there is no national organisation that speaks on behalf of its members.
3The organisation upholds and promotes the philosophy that people with disabilities have the right to participate collectively in decisions that impact on our lives (Nothing about Us without Us).
4The organisation’s primary goal, objectives and operations reflect and support the primary purpose of the Convention.
5The organisation functions effectively and demonstrates it is putting into practice its constitutional requirements.
6The organisation may focus on a single disability or it may be a multi-disability organisation. It is open to all disabled people who meet its membership criteria.
7The organisation must be governed by a significant majority of disabled people who reflect its community of interest and meet its membership criteria.
8Only disabled people who meet the organisation’s membership criteria may elect and vote for its governing body.
9A significant majority of the organisation’s members are disabled and reflect its community of interest.
10The organisation demonstrates that it has a mandate or authority to speak on behalf of its members and this remains paramount over any other obligations including direct service provision.
11The organisation responds to and is driven by the collective voice of its disabled members who reflect its community of interest.
12The organisation demonstrates that it has strong links to its members throughout the country, or throughout the region for a regional organisation
13The organisation has a variety of ways to ensure its members are informed of key decisions at both a local and national level.

Collectively the six DPO’s work together as part of a Coalition. The DPO Coalition is a collective voice – not one representative voice. Each DPO provides input into the Coalition’s collective voice. Each DPO takes turns at being the Chair of the Coalition.

Whaikaha provides funding for the DPO Coalition to meet regularly. Meetings are held approximately every six weeks for two-three days. Payment of daily meeting fees are benchmarked against the Cabinet Fees Framework. However, members of the DPO Coalition are not paid for the work required to implement actions outside of the DPO Coalition meeting times, such as communicating with disabled people and seeking the views of disability community members on particular issues. DPO Coalition members are also not paid for any advocacy undertaken outside of meeting times which is often resource and time intensive. Deaf Aotearoa’s view is that the DPO Coalition needs to be funded properly to be able to undertake all its functions, both inside and outside of meeting times.

The Independent Monitoring Mechanism

The DPO Coalition is also a member of the Independent Monitoring Mechanism[4] (IMM), alongside the Office of the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission. Together, the IMM:

  • promotes, protects and monitors the implementation of the UNCRPD
  • reports to Parliament, the public and the United Nations on the implementation of the Convention and specific disability issues
  • provides advice on legislation, policy and practice affecting disabled people.

More information can be found here:

Deaf Aotearoa shares the UN Committee’s concerns about the “the lack of resources, including financial support to support the DPO Coalition to fulfil its mandate as one partner of the IMM…” and supports the UN’s recommendation to:

allocate adequate resources, including financial support to the DPO Coalition to enable it to effectively fulfil its mandate as one partner of the IMM” (recommendation 60(b) refers[5]).

The DPO Coalition also monitors the progress of the implementation of New Zealand’s Disability Strategy[6] and the Disability Action Plan[7].


[1] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/article-4-general-obligations.html

[2] http://docstore.ohchr.org/SelfServices/FilesHandler.ashx?enc=6QkG1d%2FPPRiCAqhKb7yhsnbHatvuFkZ%2Bt93Y3D%2Baa2pjFYzWLBu0vA%2BBr7QovZhbuyqzjDN0plweYI46WXrJJ6aB3Mx4y%2FspT%2BQrY5K2mKse5zjo%2BfvBDVu%2B42R9iK1p

[3] https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRPD%2fC%2fNZL%2fCO%2f2-3&Lang=en

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwKBCT8uNY4

[5] https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRPD%2fC%2fNZL%2fCO%2f2-3&Lang=en

[6] https://www.odi.govt.nz/nz-disability-strategy/

[7] https://www.odi.govt.nz/disability-action-plan-2/

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