Our history

Discover how Te Amaru—Disability Services began at Victoria University of Wellington.

History of Disability Services at  the University

The way disability has been recognised  at Victoria University of Wellington has  changed significantly since its founding as  Victoria College in 1897. In many ways it has  mirrored the stages of recognition that New  Zealand society as a whole has had, before  coming to forge its own path to where we  are now.

The early history of disability at Victoria  University of Wellington is characterised  by silence. An extensive search of the  University archives from the early 1900’s  found no mention of disabled students  or staff. During this time, in a society  characterised by segregation and  institutionalism, it is possible that most  disabled young people did not make it to  tertiary education, and those that did were  not acknowledged.

The later history of disability at the  University, in contrast, is characterised by  the power of strong student and staff voices  who have advocated for change and those  in leadership positions who have listened  and turned those words into actions.

The story of Disability Services at the  University really starts in 1988 when, for  the first time, dedicated funded hours  were provided for supporting students with  disabilities. This provided students with  four hours of support each week from a  counsellor in the counselling service.

In 1989, a new position in the counselling  service—counsellor for students with  disabilities—was established, which  recognised the scope and importance of  support for students with disabilities.

In 1992, the Campus Abilities and  Disabilities Organisation (CAN-DO), a  student representative group, was officially  formed. This group proposed and actioned  a research project named “We Can Do It”,  which looked at students with disabilities on  campus. The results of this research were  published in 1993, which strongly endorsed  the creation of a separate service for  students with disabilities.

This led to the University establishing and  appointing the first coordinator for students  with disabilities in 1994; a separate and  distinct service from the counselling service.  A strong relationship existed between  CAN-DO and the coordinator for students  with disabilities, the catch cry “Nothing  about us, without us” was applied and the  expectations of students with disabilities  began to increase. University policies  began to be changed to meet those  expectations, beginning with the passing of  the Reasonable Accommodation Policy later  that year.

That year also saw the establishment of the  Vic Volunteer Service, including the note  taking service, the opening of the Sutherland  Room (a space specifically for students  with disabilities complete with computers,  adaptive technology, and rest spaces), and  the formation of an Access Sub-committee  with the coordinator for students with  disabilities, facilities management, and  students to look at improving physical  access on our campuses.

Over the years that followed the service  would change its name, grow its staff from  one part-time coordinator in 1994 to the  larger team we have today, and expand its  capabilities—from reactively supporting  students to proactively working with both  students and the University to foster an  inclusive and supportive environment for our  diverse and growing community. CAN-DO  became the Disabled Students’ Association  and there is now a complementary National  Disabled Students’ Association.

We acknowledge the history of Disability  Services and the learnings over the years.  We acknowledge the many students,  staff and members of the wider disability  community who have contributed to Victoria  University of Wellington’s present strong  disability culture, including those who have  made significant foundational contributions  such as: Ruth Swatland, Paul Gibson,  Victoria Manning, Paul Robertson, Ali  Bradshaw, Gary Williams, Dr Gill Greer, Ava  Gibson, Dinah Hawken, Bronwyn Hayward,  Dr Pauline Boyles, Lynda Little and Brett  Challacombe-King.

There have been many disability champions  both inside and external to the University  who have provided their expertise,  knowledge, time, challenge and support.  We are also fortunate to have many  of New Zealand’s influential disability  rights advocates as Victoria University  of Wellington graduates who share their  disability and professional expertise with  us. Te Herenga Waka has become an  increasingly inclusive place for learning over  the years and that journey continues.

Learning Gleaned from a Human Rights Case

An example of the significant change  that has occurred at the University is the  recognition of the importance of accessible  built spaces. In 1994, this was the first  tertiary institution to have a Human Rights  Case taken against it and the University was  found to be in breach of the Human Rights  Act. The complaint arose after the Sociology  and Social Work School was moved to an  inaccessible site.

As part of the settlement, for several years  the University reported to the Human  Rights Commission on its progress. The  disability community re-engaged with senior  management in 1998, as they believed  that in some areas the University wasn’t  progressing agreed actions. The senior  management team undertook Disability  Equity Training. After the training, the then  managers of the Disability Services reported  directly to the Vice Chancellor to progress  the University’s disability responsiveness  and manage disability risk.

Today, Property Services works closely  with Te Amaru—Disability Services and  these teams are committed to improving the  accessibility of our built spaces, which is a  key component of the University’s Strategic  Asset Management Plan.