Release of Identify Survey helps us to understand Rainbow young people

(This news item was originally published on the Office for Disability Issues website and was added to the Whaikaha website in June 2024. External links may no longer be in use.)

We look at the findings of a survey from university researchers to see what it tells us about disabled people who are also members of the Rainbow community.

In December 2022, a report Identify Survey - because diversity counts external URL was released by researchers from the universities of Auckland and Waikato, working with Rainbow organisations. The report looks at experiences of Rainbow young people between 14 and 26 years of age, living in a cisheteronormative context (where identifying with the gender you are allocated at birth, and being attracted to members of the opposite sex, is usual) in Aotearoa New Zealand.

 Of the 4784 rainbow participants (over 400 allies also participated). The average age of participants was 19 years, with 43% in secondary education and 34% in post-secondary education. Most participants were New Zealand European (71%), with 12% identifying as Māori, 9% as Asian and 4% as Pacific. 32% of participants lived in Auckland and another 22% in Wellington.

42% identified themselves as disabled using the Washington Group Short Set questions (n=1715). While this is a particularly large proportion of disabled people, other studies have also found that there is a higher incidence of disability among Rainbow individuals external URL (around 1 in 3 compared to 1 in 4 in heterosexual populations). Cognitive disabilities tend to be more frequent among young adults. As such, it is possible that responses tothe question on difficulty with concentrating and remembering resulted in an inflated sample of disabled young people. This could have an impact on the size of the differences in wellbeing between rainbow disabled and non-disabled young people.

The findings of the Identify Survey concur with those from the Youth Health and Wellbeing Survey (Whataboutme?) external URL released earlier this year. Compared with other groups of young people, disabled and rainbow young people were more likely to struggle with many aspects of their lives and were less able to express their identities. The Identify Survey looked more closely at youth who are both rainbow and disabled.

Findings about the wellbeing of Rainbow disabled young people

 Feeling safe

  • Feeling safe at school as a Rainbow person – disabled students are more likely to report feeling unsafe or very unsafe than non-disabled students (21% vs 11%)
  • 37% of students experienced bullying at school in the past twelve months, and of these, 19% reported disability or chronic illness as a reason for bullying
  • Fewer disabled Rainbow people feel safe at home (64%) compared to non-disabled Rainbow (84%). When asked what would help them to feel safer in their current living situation, one respondent shared: “Not having a homophobic parent and [not] being reliant on my parents for care due to my disability” (Pākehā/NZ European and Asian, 15 years old).


  • One quarter of participants not currently in education were also not working. Unemployment was higher among disabled participants (41% vs 17% for non-disabled participants). Similarly, higher unemployment was found among trans and non-binary young people compared to cisgender young people (39% vs 14%).

Unmet health care

  • 21% of disabled young people reported foregoing health care compared to 15% of non-disabled young people
  • 8% of young people reported they had been treated unfairly by a healthcare professional because of their Rainbow identity. More disabled Rainbow participants reported being treated unfairly than non-disabled Rainbow young people (11% vs 6%).

In conclusion 

Overall, the report made the following recommendations with regards to disabled rainbow young people:

  • disabled young people are among the top three most vulnerable cohorts of Rainbow youth, following trans and non-binary young people
  • an intersectional approach will help to improve policy and processes in systems that practice cisnormativity and ableism (health, education). Future work with disabled youth should explicitly refer to Rainbow disabled youth and address their particular needs.

Whaikaha encourages all government agencies to consider how their services cater for the needs of disabled rainbow youth so they can feel safe, achieve equitable employment levels, and have their health care needs met.