The physical disability service

Learn about the physical disability service, which works with teachers and schools to help them to adapt the environment around a student to meet the students’ needs. Find out who is eligible and how to apply.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Principals and Tumuaki
  • SENCOs and Learning Support Coordinators
  • Teachers and Kaiako
  • Parents, Caregivers and Whānau
  • Boards
  • External agencies

What the physical disability service is

The physical disability service is a team of people, which can include physiotherapists and occupational therapists, who work with teachers and schools. The service helps them to adapt the environment around a student to meet the students’ needs.

In most parts of the country, the service is provided by the Ministry of Education. In some areas it is provided by specialist service providers.

Specialist service providers

Who the service is for

Students can receive this service if they have a physical disability that is a barrier to their participation and learning at school.

Students might:

  • have difficulties with mobility and/or hand movement
  • have specialised equipment to help them walk, write and perform tasks requiring fine-motor skills.

They likely have problems with:

  • moving safely around the classroom and the school
  • using playground equipment
  • taking part in learning activities, particularly physical ones
  • using pencils, pens and other tools (including technology) and materials, especially if their disability causes problems with their handwriting
  • managing basic tasks, such as changing their clothes when they go swimming, dealing with their clothes when they go to the toilet and eating their lunch or morning tea.

Children with a severe physical disability

If a student has a severe disability, talk to your local learning support staff. It may be more appropriate to apply for the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS). You can't get support from both the physical disability service and ORS.

Local learning support offices

Ongoing Resourcing Scheme

Services and support in Māori-medium education

Children and young people with learning support needs in Māori-medium early learning centres and schools are eligible for the same level of specialist services and support from the Ministry that they would receive in English-medium education.

What the service does not cover

  • Support for students who are under 6 and are not at school. In this case students might be able to get occupational and/or physiotherapy services through the health service.
  • Support for students already getting help through ORS.
  • Funding for a teacher’s aide or ‘consumables’ (small equipment items).
  • Speech-language therapy. Support might be available through the local Ministry learning support.

Before applying for the physical disability service, talk to your local Ministry office or a specialist service provider about your student's circumstances.

Local Ministry offices

Accidents covered by ACC

If your student’s disability is the result of an accident, they might be able to get support from the physical disability service if they’re not already getting occupational therapy or physiotherapy through the ACC.

ACC and the Ministry of Education might work together to provide support.

How to apply

Your school can apply in consultation with the student’s parents.

Your school will usually have someone who works with parents, such as a learning support coordinator or a special education needs coordinator (SENCO).

Support in Canterbury

Complete the request form and send the application to the local learning support team.

Support in the rest of New Zealand

Complete the service application form and send it to either :

  • your local learning support team or
  • the specialist service provider (in certain areas as below).

Local learning support services

The following areas have specialist service providers:

  • Waitakere City (Lincoln Heights School)
  • Waitakere City (Waitakere College)
  • Manukau City
  • Papakura District
  • Franklin District
  • Hamilton City
  • Wellington City.

Find contact details on the specialist support provider page.

Specialist service providers

What happens next

The physical disability service has physiotherapists and occupational therapists who work with teachers and children.

A therapist from the service will arrange to visit your school to see your student and to meet their teacher and the parents and assess the student’s needs. They'll talk with everyone involved, including the child, the family and the teachers and carry out a thorough assessment based on the information provided in the application and on information provided by you and the family | whānau.

The therapist might also discuss possible changes to school buildings to enable students to move around freely, such as the library or classrooms. For example, doorways might need to be widened or ramps and handrails built. This could also mean training people to make sure the child is included in all class activities.

Creating a service agreement

They will negotiate a service agreement. The service agreement identifies:

  • goals and priorities for intervention
  • any resources needed
  • timeframes
  • the responsibilities of those involved.

Individual education plans

All students receiving the physical disability service will have an individual education plan (IEP).

Your school will work together with the family | whānau and the therapy service provider to develop, implement and monitor your student’s IEP.

You can view the IEP guidelines(external link) here as well as examples of several students with different needs and what their IEPs look like.

IEP guidelines(external link)

Education and health services

The work of education and health specialists often overlaps. Your student might be able to receive support from both services as they have a different focus. Therapists will work together to meet your student’s needs.

Teacher aide support

The physical disability service does not provide teacher aide support. 

However, when your school applies for this service, you agree to support the programme the therapists suggests. This might see your school using its special education grant to pay for teacher’s aide support if this is considered appropriate.

Other support if your student isn’t accepted

If your student isn't accepted in the physical disability service, you might consider other options through your school.

For example, you may use your special education grant to support children with learning support needs. You can spend this in a variety of ways, including on resources, teacher training and teacher aide time and on individual students or groups of students.

You might also make a referral to resource teachers of learning and behaviour (RTLB) who are employed by groups of schools. RTLB are trained teachers who work with children experiencing learning or behaviour difficulties. They can work with teachers, giving them special training or they can work with individual children or groups of children.

Resource teachers: Learning and behaviour

How long the support continues

Your student will be given support from the physical disability service for an agreed period of time. This will have been negotiated with the parents and the school and recorded in the service agreement.

The therapist will review your student’s progress and will discuss this with you and their parents to decide if their support needs to continue.

In the future, your school can reapply for support if the parents and teachers feel your student needs more support or if their situation changes, for example, if they move classes or schools, or if they have a significant physical change.

When reapplying you will only need to provide information about what has changed or is new since the last application.

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