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Our research focus

The Critical Disability Studies Research Network's core research will focus upon disability issues/inequities experienced at individual, organisational, policy and macro levels across multiple disciplinary contexts.

We will explore “new and affirmative” research possibilities that may inform and facilitate changes in thinking, policies and practices in cultural, educational, legal and other societal systems.

Disability Studies

Disability is ubiquitous – it's “everywhere once you start noticing it”.

What disability is, how it is noticed and responded to has become the focus of inquiry of an eclectic group of international researchers and self/advocates over the past three decades. Working within a range of disciplines, Disability Studies (DS) rejects deficit interpretations of disability in favour of illuminating and addressing entrenched ableist ideologies, structures and practices that discriminate and dehumanise disabled people.

Critical Disability Studies

More recently, Critical Disability Studies (CDS) has evolved from the work of Disability Studies researchers and theorists, forming alliances with scholars working from differing epistemological standpoints, yet driven by similar claims for recognition, respect and rights in a world that privileges a certain kind of normative human being.

An advisory forum for academics to incorporate a disability focus within their research

The Network can provide information on relevant research, theorising, methodologies, ethical considerations and protocols for engaging with disabled people.

We seek to provide an organised, respectful, and partnership-focused framework for researchers to work with disabled people, so that the latter are not consulted in a haphazard and inappropriate manner and expected to respond to multiple requests to give freely of their time, energy and valuable experience.

We welcome international, domestic and inter-disciplinary collaboration at all levels. Academics, advocates, students, practitioners, community members and everyone in between are welcome to join and engage with us.

Our people

Principal investigators

Professor Ruth Fitzgerald

Ruth Fitzgerald is a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Otago and a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute. She researches and teaches in the Social Anthropology Programme | Mātai Tikaka Takata in the School of Social Sciences | Te Puna Pāpori.

Ruth works in the field of medical anthropology, focussing on health ideologies, care, moral reasoning and culture. Most recently, Ruth has co-led a Marsden Funded Research project on the cultural significance of genetic testing.

Dr Megan Gollop

Dr Megan Gollop is a Senior Research Fellow and the Deputy Director of the Children's Issues Centre in the Faculty of Law at the University of Otago. Her socio-legal research is currently primarily related to family law matters, but she has a strong interest in children's rights, well-being and participation.

She is a member of the Network's steering group and is currently working with other Network members on a University of Otago Research Grant. This project focuses upon the extent to which contemporary understandings of disability matters are conveyed to students in professional programmes (Physiotherapy and Teacher Education) at Otago and then applied in their first five years of practice after graduation.

Professor Leigh Hale

Professor Leigh Hale is the Dean of the School of Physiotherapy and a member of the Centre for Health, Activity, and Rehabilitation Research at the University of Otago.

Leigh primarily researches in the area of community-based physiotherapeutic rehabilitation, falls prevention and self-management support for people living with lifelong disability and/or health conditions.

Associate Professor Brigit Mirfin-Veitch

Dr Brigit Mirfin-Veitch is the Director of the Donald Beasley Institute (DBI). The DBI is an independent charitable trust, which conducts research and education in the field of intellectual disability. Brigit is also a Senior Lecturer with the Centre for Post Graduate Nursing Studies, University of Otago (Christchurch).

Brigit has been involved in research on a wide range of topics including deinstitutionalisation, physical health, mental health and wellbeing, parenting and the law, and has disseminated and published widely across those areas.

Associate Professor Meredith Perry

Meredith is a physiotherapist and experienced qualitative and quantitative researcher who has an interest in long term conditions and disability. She researches concepts such as person-centred care and the therapeutic relationship required for enabling self-management (of which physical activity is one component).

Her work also considers and explores co-produced solutions for challenging societal and political discourse which enables health system inequities via systemic racism or biases and inaccessible services, resources and environments.

Dr Gill Rutherford

Gill Rutherford is a Senior Lecturer in Education and Disability Studies at the College of Education | Te Kura Akau Taitoka. She has worked in the education and disability sectors for over 40 years, as a teacher, teacher educator and researcher.

Gill co-ordinates and teaches EDUC 105 Disability Studies and EDUC 313 Inclusive Education, and teaches in a range of undergraduate and postgraduate teacher education papers. Currently, Gill's research focuses on how university students and staff think about disability and human rights, and how this impacts educational policy and practice.

Associate investigators

Professor Neil Carr

Neil Carr is a Professor in the Faculty of Commerce. His research encompasses a variety of interests that utilise leisure and tourism experiences as a cross-disciplinary lens through which to view behaviour, with a particular emphasis on children and families, animals and animal welfare, and freedom.

In this context he has conducted research and published on issues related to assistance dogs and disabled animals. In addition, one of his PhD students is currently examining the holiday experiences of disabled children.

Dr Hyunah Cho

Dr Hyunah Cho recently finished her PhD in music therapy. Her thesis was a work of interdisciplinary research, located at the intersection of music therapy, medical anthropology, and medical ethnomusicology. As a clinical psychotherapist and music therapist, Hyunah worked at schools, the military and psychiatric hospitals in South Korea and came to Dunedin in 2017 for her PhD.

Since moving to Dunedin, Hyunah has been providing music therapy sessions for people with disabilities, and working as a tutor at the College of Education. She is currently a teaching fellow in the Social Anthropology Programme.

Associate Professor Patsie Frawley

Patsie Frawley is an Associate Professor in Te Kura Toi Tangata | School of Education at the University of Waikato. She uses a human rights framework for looking at inclusion with people with disabilities through inclusive research and by engaging with the lived experience of disability in her teaching. Her research focuses on sexuality rights and issues of ableist and gendered violence and abuse in the lives of people with disabilities.

Professor Anita Gibbs

Anita Gibbs teaches social work, sociology and criminology at the University of Otago. Her research interests span 25 years in criminal justice, mental health and social work, specialising more recently in foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). She is a disability advocate working alongside caregivers and individuals to promote positive supports for those living with FASD and other neuro-diversities.

In 2020, she was awarded the Critic and Conscience of Society Award by the GAMA Foundation and Universities New Zealand for her work raising awareness of the issue of FASD as a hidden disability. In 2022, Anita will launch a new paper: SOCI 404: Exploring Neuro-Disability in Health, Welfare and Justice Systems.

Ms Melissa Lethaby

Melissa Lethaby is Manager of Disability Information and Support at the University of Otago and has worked for the service since 2002. She is proud to lead one of the best disability support services in the country.

In addition, Melissa is the National President of ACHIEVE – the National Post-Secondary Disability Education Network. Melissa is also a member of the University of Otago Council, sitting on both the Appeals Board and Health and Safety and Ethics Compliance Committee.

Dr Denise Powell

Denise Powell is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Canterbury where she co-ordinates the Teacher of the Deaf specialist teaching programme. Her Doctor of Education focussed on the social and academic experiences of Deaf and Hard of Hearing tertiary students in New Zealand.

Denise is involved in research relating to disability caused by injury, and presented her research to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) Committee in Geneva. Her current research project is developing co-enrolment for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students in New Zealand, based on the investigation she undertook as a Winston Churchill Fellow in 2019.

Dr Lynnaire Sheridan

Lynnaire Sheridan is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Management in Otago's School of Business. Her research focus is on identifying key insights and potential learnings emerging from complex scenarios to facilitate problem solving and promote positive socio-cultural ecological and economic outcomes.

Professor Nicola Taylor

Professor Nicola Taylor is Director of the Children's Issues Centre in the Faculty of Law and holds the Alexander McMillan Leading Thinker Chair in Childhood Studies.

Nicola teaches LAWS 411 Family Law and undertakes socio-legal research with children, parents and professionals on family justice and children's rights issues including post-separation care arrangements, relocation, international child abduction, children's views and participation, family dispute resolution, relationship property division and succession law.

Research projects

Understanding disability matters: Applying university learning in professional practice

This University of Otago Research Grant study is concerned with investigating whether contemporary understandings of disability matters are conveyed to Otago University students enrolled in Physiotherapy and Primary Teacher Education professional programmes during their studies; and are then applied in their first five years of practice after graduating.


Dr Gill Rutherford, Professor Ruth Fitzgerald, Dr Megan Gollop, Professor Leigh Hale, and Dr Solmaz Nazari Orakani


A kaupapa Māori approach to measuring Māori health, wellbeing and disability

Wednesday, 4 October 2023, 12:00pm–1:00pm

My Experiences, My Rights: Disabled People's Experience of Health and Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand

Tuesday, 18 October 2022, 12:10pm - 1:00pm

In this webinar, the Disabled Person-Led Monitoring team from the Donald Beasley Institute will present findings from the report.

New Zealand's Disabled Person-Led Monitoring of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)

2021 seminar

This seminar was presented by researchers from the Donald Beasley Institute (DBI). The DBI was established in Ōtepoti Dunedin in 1984 and is recognised nationally and internationally as a leader in the field of disability research.

The presenters spoke about one of their recent long-term projects: New Zealand's Disabled Person-Led Monitoring of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

They discussed disabled person-led monitoring as a research methodology, the strengths and challenges of disability-led research methodology in the context of monitoring; and identified opportunities for future development.

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