Equity News

Catch up on the latest equity-related news

From Auckland to New York: Student takes disability message to world

Emma Cooper-Williams
Emma Cooper-Williams says people with disabilities need to be involved in campus design.

A University of Auckland student has taken her message about inclusive design to the world, thanks to an approach from the United Nations in New York.

The UN Academic Impact, which connects 1,400 tertiary institutions globally with the UN’s work, read about Emma Cooper-Williams on the Equity Office Te Ara Tautika’s web pages and got in contact requesting a follow-up interview. Read Emma’s Equity Office profile.

“We chose Emma because she was clearly a much accomplished and civically engaged member of your university community,” says Davida Eyam-Ozung, of the UN Academic Impact in New York.

We chose Emma because she was clearly a much accomplished and civically engaged member of your university community.

Davida Eyam-Ozung UN Academic Impact in New York

“Furthermore, her unique position as a student who uses a wheelchair presented the potential to highlight the importance of making learning spaces more inclusive, to avoid missing out on the valuable contributions of thinkers, simply because they don't have adequate access to learning spaces,” Davida says.

The University’s Emma Cooper-Williams is interviewed, alongside US professor of chemistry Paul Bracher, for a UN series on “disability and higher education”.
The University’s Emma Cooper-Williams is interviewed, alongside US professor of chemistry Paul Bracher, for a UN series on “disability and higher education”.

Read the UN Academic Impact story, featuring Emma, entitled Disability and higher education: Better architectural choices for inclusive campuses.

Emma graduated in History and Social Science for Public Health in 2020 and is now studying Politics and International Relations towards honours. She has been elected to the role of AUSA postgraduate officer for 2021.

Emma recently gave up part-time work in the University contact centre to concentrate on her many new roles, representing students on committees for AUSA, and groups she is involved with separate to the AUSA role, such as, the Disability Programme Advisory Group and the Equity Community of Interest.

Emma is pleased to have had the opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of involving people with disabilities in accessible design.

“The fact that I have been able to vocalise these points show that people with disabilities aren’t silent on these issues; however, we are often not given the platform for these important points to be realised,” Emma says.

The fact that I have been able to vocalise these points show that people with disabilities aren’t silent on these issues; however, we are often not given the platform for these important points to be realised.

Emma Cooper-Williams

The UN story highlights Emma’s involvement in a campus digital mapping, or Wayfinding app, project, helping the project team to plot accessible routes.

The Equity Office’s Student Disability Services collaborated with the Wayfinding project team, as part of its work under the Disability Programme, which covers three broad areas:

  • Communications and digital accessibility
  • Physical environment
  • University culture and work environment.

In 2021, the Equity Office is developing the Disability Programme into a Disability Action Plan.

Inclusive University of Auckland

The University of Auckland is committed to removing barriers for staff and students with disabilities, as part of its commitment to providing a safe, inclusive and equitable environment for work and study. See Equity at the University: Te Ara Tautika.

Other articles in the UN series

Disability and higher education: Inclusivity in an increasingly technologically inclined academic world

‘But you don’t look disabled’: Legitimising invisible disabilities

Covid-19 a blow to women’s research

Covid-19 lockdowns are likely to be impacting women’s research at the University of Auckland, in line with reports from overseas, feedback to the Equity Office Te Ara Tautika suggests.

International reports show a downturn in articles sole-authored or led by women submitted to academic journals, as well as severely impacted productivity of women researchers in lockdowns, see Gender equity – Women

“This is an issue that needs to be carefully monitored and addressed, both with direct support and through policies and guidelines, such as flexible working and Achievement Relative to Opportunity,” manager staff equity Cathie Walsh says.

Prue Toft, Acting Pro-Vice Chancellor Equity adds: “This is also a critical equity issue for a research-led university.”

During the first lockdown this year, the Faculty of Arts responded to colleagues’ reports that working from home was having a severe impact on the productivity of researchers with carer responsibilities, deputy head (research) in Social Sciences Dr Carisa Showden says.

“Because caring is frequently gendered, that does mean more women than men were reporting impacts. But some of our male colleagues are joint or primary caretakers and they too have  reported serious setbacks in their research capacities,” Carisa says.

The faculty asked researchers with children for more detailed feedback and was able to offer financial support for some, while noting others didn’t even have the capacity to make use of the relief efforts.

Some anonymised comments from the feedback include:

  • Between 6am and 8pm, my default position has had to be a fulltime parent to three young children… So my research has largely ground to a halt.
  • I was listening to the faculty Zoom meeting while making playdough for the [kids].
  • My ‘study’ is the kitchen table, the hub of the house.
  • Like many academic staff, we are both migrants and don’t have any family here in the country for extra support… I’m unable to catch up with my writing commitments.
  • My sense overall is that the burden of these situations tends to fall disproportionately on women. While I can’t speak for other families, I’m grateful to be part of a bubble where my male partner and I are dividing the childcare load equally during this time.

My ‘study’ is the kitchen table, the hub of the house.


Meanwhile, Associate Professor Nicola Gaston from the Department of Physics contributed to a statement from the Australian Academy of Science raising the alarm about the risk of lockdowns for the careers of women academics in STEM, where they are already in the minority.

The statement from the Science Academy goes on to warn that women from diverse backgrounds face additional barriers.

In this country, Nicola says, through her role as co-director of the MacDiarmid Institute, she is seeing a pattern emerge that accords with overseas reports of parents being particularly affected by lockdowns.

“Research funding applications have been let slide due to a lack of bandwidth and obviously publication has gotten harder — none of these impacts are exclusively on women but, when it comes to the tangibles (time to submit grants and publish papers), the impacts appear unequal.”

It is important leaders at the University of Auckland appraise themselves of this risk from Covid-19 lockdowns and utilise the relevant policies, procedures and resources, Cathie says.

There has been significant work, in response to the pandemic, on resources to support staff and leaders in remote working, including a Flexible ways of working hub.

There are a number of resources, case studies and FAQs to guide academic leaders and managers in reviews and promotions, where employees have been impacted by Covid-19. See Achievement Relative to Opportunity, on Combining parenting with a career, and the Flexible ways of working hub.

Employees are encouraged to keep records of how Covid-19 has impacted their performance.

Gender-diverse scholarship a first for University

For the first time, a school leaver who identifies as gender-diverse* has been awarded a school-leaver scholarship, a milestone welcomed by the Equity Office Te Ara Tautika.

A total of 625 scholarships, ranging from $5000 to $20,000, have been awarded from 3763 applicants, with pleasing outcomes for Māori and equity group students, says director student equity Dr Terry O’Neill.

 “The Equity Office has worked with the Schools Partnership Office, in particular through content on the back page of Link News which goes out to all New Zealand schools, to increase awareness of the support and resourcing available to Māori and equity-group students,” Terry says.

This was the first year the scholarship application form included “gender diverse” as an option.

While this information is confidential - to protect students' privacy - it informs the University's support for Rainbow students.

The scholarship is part of a wider University move towards recognising gender diversity.

For example, gender-diverse students can apply for funding through the Equity Office to legally change their names, then apply to have their personal data records changed, where staff and students can identify as male (M), female (F) or gender-diverse (X).

In other equity group scholarship outcomes, 16 students from refugee backgrounds have been awarded scholarships, 28 students with disabilities and 74 decile one students.

One-hundred-and-fifty new $20,000 Waka and Vaka awards are believed to be behind significant increases in scholarships to Māori and Pacific students with 238 awards offered to Māori and Pacific candidates, compared with 128 the year before. Of those offered this year, 191 have been accepted.

For more information, contact the Scholarships Office.

The Equity Office Te Ara Tautika supports Māori and equity groups, including:

  • Pacific students
  • Students with disabilities
  • Students from refugee backgrounds
  • Students from low socio-economic backgrounds
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex,
  • Takatāpui and other (LGBTQI Takatāpui+) students.

To find out more, see Equity at the University.     

For information on University support for Rainbow students, including gender-diverse, see equity.auckland.ac.nz/Rainbow 

*Gender diverse is where a person’s gender identity or gender expression does not conform to socially defined male or female gender norms.

Disability support well known

The University of Auckland's Disability Programme, which aims to identify and implement a range of initiatives to help ensure the success of students and staff with disabilities, is now in its final year. 

As part of the programme, the Equity Office Te Ara Tautika recently ran a survey to understand levels of student awareness of the support the University provides for students with disabilities. General awareness that the University supports students with disabilities was high (84 percent). However there is still work to do to increase both the level of this general awareness and knowledge of the specific supports available.

Survey respondents went into a draw to win an iPad – the winner being Jerry Zhang! The Equity Office thanks all respondents, the information and insights provided are much appreciated and will inform our work going forward.

Learnings, next steps and future work, identified through the Programme, will be considered as part of the development of a Disability Action plan.

Find out more about the Disability Programme

Accessibility law's milestone celebrated

Alumni Ite Lemalu has successfully campaigned with Access Alliance for accessibility legislation, now on a pathway through Government.
Alumni Ite Lemalu has successfully campaigned with Access Alliance for accessibility legislation, now on a pathway through Government.

Accessibility legislation in New Zealand has taken a significant step forward with cross-party support and a confirmed pathway through Cabinet, which is welcomed by the Equity Office ­–­ Te Ara Tautika.

On 28 July, the Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee agreed to push ahead with drafting an accessibility legislative framework from now until May next year.

“This is a significant achievement towards accessibility legislation in New Zealand,” says Mark Thomson, manager of Student Disability Services in the Equity Office - Te Ara Tautika.

“It offers an opportunity for the University of Auckland to consider how we improve the accessibility of our campus facilities and courses, particularly in its long-term response to Covid-19,” Mark says.

“With a new University strategic plan going through consultation, there’s also an opportunity for staff and students to make submissions on accessibility – and there’s a general election coming up, where voters can press candidates to back access law.”

The Access Alliance, which represents 12 disability organisations and providers, is campaigning for an “Accessibility for New Zealand Act”. It says it has affirmations of support from the five parliamentary parties for the development of legislation.

Alumni Ite Lemalu has worked, as part of Access Alliance on lobbying for the new law. Find out more about proposals for an Accessibility for New Zealand Act.

Workbridge at the University: supporting students with disabilities into work

A Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Equity Office on behalf of the University of Auckland with Workbridge in 2019, assists our students with disabilities to overcome access to equitable employment. 

Workbridge is a specialist employment service who have developed partnerships with the Tertiary Sector, focussed on supporting people with all types of disability, injury or illness.