Our history

Discover how Disability Services began at Victoria University of Wellington.

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, 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.

1994 also saw the establishment of the Volunteer 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.

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: Ruth Swatland, Paul Gibson, Victoria Manning, Gary Williams, Ava Gibson, Ali Bradshaw, Dinah Hawken, Bronwyn Hayward and Pauline Boyle.

We are 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.