Refugees with disabilities

Are refugees under-represented as clients in the Disability services. How do we remedy that?

This report was showcased in the 2013 New Zealand Race Relations Report submitted to the United Nations by the Human Rights Commission . We are stoked at the recognition!

This project started when colleagues alerted our attention to a family with a disabled young adult that had arrived to New Zealand over 3 years ago. I visited the family right away and came across a young women feeling depressed. Born with a severe disability, she quit school prematurely because of bullying. During the 3 years the family was in transit in a UNHCR refugee camp and again after her arrival here, she stayed home with no occupation or purpose – she was a recluse in her own house! 

This changed rapidly however once she was directed to local Disability service providers. As a result, her week is busy with the activities of her choice - sports, arts and learning English. A "Good Life" had been available to her... but her and her family did not know about it.

Research about the inclusion of disabled refugees in New Zealand has uncovered the potential that sharing stories of how families from refugee background have accessed disability services can make a difference for disabled refugees. This project sought to 'translate knowledge' about the reasons for the low rate of service uptake to improve access and change professional practices.

The three recommendations from the project are detailed in the video clip below:

1. Address cultural norms about disability
2. Support self-emerging community leadership amongst former refugees
3. Re-design service delivery around the needs of each family

[clip URL]

These stories are recorded in their native language so that social workers or staff in the Health and Disability sector can share these stories from their smartphones with newcomers. This solves the problem of some refugees not having words in their native language for disabilities or being illiterate in their native language. Video interviews are also collected in english as part of a training package for the disability sector.

The research pilot was presented at a number of meetings and disseminated via different channels as described below: 

New Zealand

1. The IHC Foundation awarded the funding to carry out the research. The screenshot below shows how the IHC showcased it. 

2. Ministry of Health NASCAThe research and video summary clip were presented at a Keynote presentation at the Wellington NASCA conference 4 September 2014. The screenshot below shows that the Abstract was downloaded 146 times and the presentation an additional 558 times; this adds up to the 300 NASCA representative who received the presentation handouts in on the day. There is interest in the topic.

3. WEKA: Disseminating Disability Information

4. Te Ngira September newsletter - Human Rights Commission Diversity Action Programme. Below is a screenshot of the Te Ngira media about this presentation.

5. Human Rights Commission: Sept 2013, Te Punanga Refugees Focus ISSN 1178-0940

6. Community Waikato Kumara Vine, Vol 43, October 2013.

7. Victoria University of Wellington, Centre for Applied Crosscultural Research (CACR):

8. Local branches - Annick was invited to present these results at a Hamilton People First meeting in October. The audience agreed that this topic needs urgent attention and implementation.

9. Change Makers Refugee Forum - November 2013 Newsletter section.

New member of the Research Directory

Dr. Annick Janson is an Associate of the Centre for Applied Cross Cultural Research at Victoria University and works with the Ecosynergy Group and the Fast Track Inclusion Trust. Recently her work has focused on building resilience, integration of vulnerable families, and access to Health and Disability services. Her storytelling work with disabled refugees outlined the reasons for the low rate of service uptake. Dr. Janson presented a keynote address at the NZ Needs Assessment Service Co-ordination Association (NASCA Ministry of Health).


With support from the NZ Commission for the UNESCO, Dr. Janson proposed technological innovations that can be embedded in professional training for staff working with refugees. World Information Society Knowledge Community Blog (UNESCO) displays posts on the project start.

A callout to the international community was made at the start of the project to see if we could connect with similar research endeavours abroad: 

Playlist here.

Dr. Annick Janson was the Research Director at Microsoft NZ ‘Partners in Learning’ and Research Director of the NZ Leadership Institute, Auckland University. Annick can be reached via phone at: 027 288 1949 or

This project is a SPARK NZ 'Knowledge Translation' initiative, led by Te Pou and the Ministry of Health. 
Report available from 
Permanent link to this page:

Publications and Presentations

Our recent participation in peer-support and peer-mentoring conferences:

It was an inspiring experience to meet so many like-minded colleagues and start new collaborations! In particular, I loved the discussions about identifying common challenges and designing solutions to trial - radical implementation.

It was a pleasure to spend these few days with Drs. Sternberg and Maskit and plan future research projects and publications.