Ko Wai Mātou - Our People

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DBI Director - Dr Brigit Mirfin-Veitch

Assoc. Prof. Brigit Mirfin-Veitch

Kaiwhakahaere - Director (Kāti Pākehā)

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

Kaiwhakahaere Taituarā - Executive Assistant (Kāti Pākehā)

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

Kairakahau Māori (Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu, Kāti Pākehā)

Kelly Tikao fulfils the role of Kairakahau 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 Kāi Tahu customary birthing practices.

DBI - Dr Robbie Francis Watene

Dr Robbie Francis Watene

Kairakahau Matua - Senior Researcher (Kāti Pākehā)

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

Paewai Rakahau Teina - Junior Research Fellow (Kāti Hapanihi - Japanese)

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

Kairakahau - Researcher (Kāti Irāna)
Dr Solmaz Nazari Orakani is a member of the DBI’s disability research team. Drawing on her lived experience of disability and her activism and advocacy work for people with disabilities, Solmaz’ academic focus is on the complexities and nuances of disability research, health and well-being, social change, and inclusion of people with disabilities. Solmaz is also a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Victoria University of Wellington where she explores the experiences of disabled people in accessing health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
DBI - Eden Tuisaula

Eden Tuisaula

Kaiaroturuki & Kairuruku - Monitor & Research Assistant (Kāti Hāmoa, Kāti Pākehā)

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

Kaiaroturuki & Kairuruku - Monitor & Research Assistant (Kāi Tahu, Te Atiawa, Kāti Hauiti, Kāti Pākehā)

He uri tēnei nō kā mauka tūpuna o Aoraki rātou ko Taranaki, ko kā pae mauka o Ruahine. Ko Taiaroa rātou ko Erihana/Ellison, ko Potaka kā ikoa whānau.   

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 Takata Tīriti and helping whānau navigate a world not always made for us.

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Jacinta Tevaga

Kaiaroturuki & Kairuruku - Monitor & Research Assistant (Kāti Hāmoa)
Jacinta Tevaga is Samoan born kiwi. Her interest is around social inclusion and the rights of people with disability through lived experience perspective. She is passionate about empowering and advocating for people with disability. She has worked in the Disability Sector for 8 years involved in innovative projects in leading establishing new social hubs and foundation trust for Pacific and Maori Community, as well as being an disability adviser, mental health projects and campaign in the Pacific Community. She has a background in Mental health and Disability History.

She has a National Certificate in Mental Health and Addiction and have completed her Bachelors in Social Service majoring in Disability at Otago Polytechnic Capable NZ in 2021 rewarded with Distinction. She was a nominee finalist at the attitude award in 2018 for the Spirit Award at the Attitudes Awards. She was rewarded acknowledgment for her service for the Pacific Community 2018 from Vaka Tautua. She is an executive member of Tofa mamao Collective, a board Trustee at Taikura Trust. She enjoys going into unknown territories and build her capacity of learning new things.
Lydie 2022

Lydie Mia Schmidt

Kairuruku - Assistant Research Fellow (Kāti Pākehā)

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

Ahonuku Hōnore - Honorary Associate Professor (Kāti Pākehā)

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.

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Wally Noble

Kaiaroturuki & Kairuruku - Monitor & Research Assistant (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu)

Wally Noble is a disabled advocate, passionate about all roads that lead to supporting and uplifting disabled people's lives. One of his roles is working as a Maori research monitor using his relationship skills to create a safe space for disabled people to engage in conversations that lead to change led by disabled people's stories. He is of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Kahu origin and leads an active life from a wheelchair. Ka mau te wehi!

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 Lanini, The National Manager of Connections and Funding with Life Unlimited. 
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