Our People

See More

DBI Director - Dr Brigit Mirfin-Veitch

Assoc. Prof. Brigit Mirfin-Veitch


Assoc. Prof. Brigit Mirfin-Veitch became the Director of the DBI in 2007, but has been a member of the Institute's research team since 1994. As a sociologist, Brigit has a strong interest in understanding the social lives of people with learning disability and is committed to initiating and achieving social change through research. Brigit's research covers a wide range of topics, but she is particularly focused on access to justice issues, parenting by people with a learning disability, and wellbeing.

She is experienced in qualitative research methodologies, and regularly undertakes transformative evaluation projects, education, and advisory roles within the disability sector. Brigit is also a Research Associate Professor with the Centre for Postgraduate Nursing Studies, University of Otago, Christchurch, and an Adjunct Associate Professor within the School of Health and Social Development, Faculty of Health, Deakin University, Victoria, Australia (since 2018). Brigit is currently supervising a number of Ph.D. students, all pursuing disability-related doctoral research, which is a role she enjoys.

DBI - Lana Kennedy

Lana Kennedy

Executive Assistant

Lana started with the Donald Beasley Institute early in 2019. Lana enjoys her role as Executive Assistant and has over 20 years of administration experience within a range of organisations. Lana’s role within the team is to manage administrative and financial requirements for the DBI. She also provides research administration and support on individual research projects, including assisting the large team of disabled researchers currently working on the UNCRPD Monitoring research. 

DBI - Dr Kelly Tikao

Dr Kelly Tikao

Kairangahau Māori (Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu)

Kelly Tikao fulfils the role of Kairangahau Māori/Senior Māori Researcher for the Donald Beasley Institute. For Kelly, research is a relationship built on integrity and respect. It is not only about what the research team can learn from the participants, but how participants can be empowered by the research process to fully understand what they are a part of, and how their knowledge and experiences can help others.

Kelly started her research career as a registered nurse working in the community for Māori and mainstream health services and in a variety of clinical settings. She holds the upmost regard for the whānau she works alongside to be self-determining with their health needs whilst traversing the health systems.

Amongst her career and whanau demands, Kelly holds space for her creative endeavours. She pursued a part-time career in radio broadcasting for independent and national radio stations and dabbles in documentary making. In 2012, she completed a Master's in Science Communication specialising in natural history filmmaking at the University of Otago and in 2020, after a long enduring juggling act, she finished her PhD at the University of Canterbury in Ngāi Tahu customary birthing practices.

DBI - Dr Robbie Francis Watene

Dr Robbie Francis Watene

Senior Researcher

Dr Robbie Francis Watene is a disability advocate, scholar and leader from Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland. Born with a physical disability, Robbie has dedicated her personal, professional and academic life to advocating for the rights of marginalised populations. Robbie has been an expert advisor to the New Zealand Government on various strategies and policies and began working at the Donald Beasley Institute in 2018, where she is Project Lead for the Disabled Person-Led Monitoring of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, amongst other disability rights research projects.

In 2018, Robbie completed her doctorate at the University of Otago National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, where her research investigated inclusive and accessible peace building, positive peace, and the experiences of Colombian and Venezuelan refugees and asylum seekers with disabilities in Ecuador. She is also the co-founder and Director of The Lucy Foundation, an international social enterprise that has developed the world's first value chain of coffee that is entirely inclusive of disabled people - from farmer, to consumer.

Robbie is passionate about inclusive research methodologies and ensuring disabled people are leading their own research agenda. Her research interests include human rights, disability rights, disability justice, peace building, conflict resolution, gender and social enterprise.

DBI - Umi Asaka

Umi Asaka

Junior Research Fellow

Umi is a Junior Research Fellow at the Donald Beasley Institute. Her primary role involves working on the Disabled Person-Led Monitoring of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Re-Imagining Parenting project. Umi graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Otago in 2019. Her particular interest is supporting young people and families to build healthy relationships with each other. She came to New Zealand from Japan when she was 15 years old. Having lived experience of disability and cultural diversity, she is passionate about envisioning and working towards a society where no one is left behind through research, activism and community work.

DBI - Dr Solmaz Nazari

Dr Solmaz Nazari Orakani


Dr Solmaz Nazari Orakani is a disability researcher in the Health Services Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, where she has completed her PhD degree on travel constraints for people with disabilities. Drawing on her educational background, her insider position in disability research, and her activism and advocacy work for people with disabilities, Solmaz’ academic focus is the nexus of disability, travel, and tourism. Apart from involvement in disabled person-led monitoring of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) at the Donald Beasley Institute, Solmaz’ research interests include social change and inclusion of people with disabilities, complexities and nuances of disability research, and tourist behaviour of travellers with disabilities"

DBI - Eden Tuisaula

Eden Tuisaula

Research Assistant

Eden Tuisaula is a Monitor at the Donald Beasley Institute working on the Disabled Person-Led Monitoring of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as other projects. Eden graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science majoring in Psychology in 2020. Eden is passionate about social justice, equality and activism through research.

Aroha Mules 2022

Aroha Mules

Research Assistant

Aroha Mules is a Māori Monitor/Research Assistant at the Donald Beasley Institute working on the Disabled Person-Led Monitoring of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as other projects.


Aroha’s background includes working in Māori-medium education settings along with working with individuals and mainstream education organisations to be more culturally responsive in their practice. Aroha graduated with a Bachelor of Primary Education (Māori medium). Aroha’s passions include strengthening the partnership between mana whenua and Tangata Tīriti and helping whānau navigate a world not always made for us.

Lydie 2022

Lydie Mia Schmidt

Assistant Research Fellow

Lydie is an Assistant Research Fellow at the Donald Beasley Institute. Her primary role involves working on projects focused on the cross-section between disability and the justice system as well as a variety of other projects. Lydie graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts (majoring in art history) from the University of Otago in 2017. She completed her honours in art history in 2018 and was subsequently admitted to the bar and practised family law from 2019 to 2021. Lydie’s particular interest is disability rights in the family law and criminal justice systems. She is passionate about social justice, inclusion and the visual arts.

DBI - Patsie Frawley

Patsie Frawley

Honorary Associate Professor

Patsie Frawley is an Honarary Associate Professor at Deakin University Geelong, Australia in the School of Health and Social Development. She is Course Director of the Master of Disability and Inclusion and leads the Sexuality and Relationships research group. Patsie’s research focuses on inclusive approaches in sexuality and relationship rights and prevention of violence and abuse research with people with disabilities. She developed and manages the peer led Sexual Lives and Respectful Relationships program that has been running in Australia since 2009. Patsie is a long-term colleague of the DBI team and collaborator on DBI’s research, including as a co-investigator on the Mean As! Project. In 2019, after a six-month academic sabbatical at the DBI, Patsie was made an Honorary Associate Professor by the DBI Trust Board. We are very excited to have Patsie join our team in this capacity.

Trust Board

We are governed by a national Board of Trustees with a range of expertise and experience, and a strong commitment to the work of the DBI.

  • Professor Mark Henaghan (Chair), Faculty of Law, University of Auckland.
  • Professor Spencer Beasley, Paediatric Surgery, University of Otago; Clinical Director at the Department of Paediatric Surgery, Christchurch Hospital.
  • Professor Jackie Sanders, School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Massey University.
  • Ms Joy Gunn, Events & Community Development Manager, Dunedin City Council (DCC).
  • Ms Suzanne Win, Disability Consultant.
Copyright © Donald Beasley. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy

Back to top