Mary Butler

Professor Mary Butler

Program Head, Occupational Therapy

School of Allied Health Science and Practice

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.

Professor Mary Butler is the academic lead for occupational therapy at the School of Allied Health Science and Practice. Prior to this she was the inaugural professor at the School of occupational therapy in Otago, New Zealand. 

Mary specialises in doing pragmatic research that links research with advocacy, and which positions her students to do work that can make a real difference. She has a sustained commitment to community collaborations and has described and developed approaches to social and physical accessibility for people with disability (and those who care for them) across the lifespan.

She uses a variety of methodologies, with a particular focus on qualitative research. For example, she has led a number of projects using ethnography as a methodology with older adults and with people with brain injury. This was the focus of her PhD and postdoctoral work, which led to the publication of her first book. Her postdoctoral research was carried out the Injury Prevention Research Unit in Dunedin and examined the long term outcomes of injury, particularly on people with a pre-existing disability. 

She uses co-design principles to develop innovative services. For example, in her work for and with people with visual impairment she has generated numerous projects that have informed policy and generated a strong occupational therapy presence in an evolving area of practice. Some examples include a focus on transport issues that arise for older adults, such as driving assessment and self-regulation.  Mary uses citizen science methods to engage participants in generating their own solutions using science. She has done this successfully with lighting for older adults, and for engaging schoolchildren in peer vision screening processes.

During the Covid crisis she rapidly established a radio show to support the community of people with visual impairment. Over the course of 2020 this become a way of actively uniting conversations about visual impairment both nationally and internationally.

In 2020, Mary was awarded the Frances Rutherford Lecture Award, the premier award for occupational therapists in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Mary offers higher degree research supervision. She has successfully supervised many occupational therapy research projects in areas as diverse as palliative care, ethics, autonomy and dementia, engaging with poverty, implementation of individual placement and support, self-assessment, self-regulation and mobility scooters.

  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2021 Professor of Occupational Therapy University of Adelaide
    2018 - 2020 Professor Otago Polytechnic
    2015 - 2018 Principal Lecturer Otago Polytechnic
    2011 - 2015 Senior Lecturer Otago Polytechnic
    2009 - 2015 Clinical Tutor University of Otago
    2008 - 2011 Postdoctoral Research Fellow University of Otago
    1995 - 2003 Lecturer University of Otago
  • Awards and Achievements

    Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount
    2017 Award Staff award for Excellence in Research and Enterprise Otago Polytechnic New Zealand
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    2013 Otago Polytechnic New Zealand Graduate Diploma in Tertiary Education
    2008 University of Otago New Zealand Doctor of Philosophy
    2000 University of Otago New Zealand Master of Arts (Anthropology)
    1990 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom Bachelor of Science (Occupational Therapy)
    1984 University College Dublin Ireland Bachelor of Arts (Archaeology/Folklore)
  • Journals

    Year Citation
    2020 Hale, L., Mayland, E., Jenkins, M., Buttery, Y., Norris, P., Butler, M., . . . Bowers, B. J. (2020). Constructing Normalcy in Dementia Care: Carers' Perceptions of Their Roles and the Supports They Need. Gerontologist, 60(5), 905-915.
    DOI Scopus1 WoS1
    2020 Butler, M., Brookland, R., Shope, J. T., Kerse, N., & Connolly, M. J. (2020). Medical fitness to drive assessment with older drivers: A qualitative study with general practitioners in New Zealand. Journal of Transport and Health, 17, 9 pages.
    2020 Hope, J., & Butler, M. (2020). Moral Courage in Bicultural Contexts: The Need for Cultural Sensitivity in Practice. Scope: Contemporary Research Topics (Health and Wellbeing 5), 98-102.
    2020 John, R. V., & Butler, M. (2020). Family-Centred Practice in a Rehabilitation Setting. Scope: Contemporary Research Topics (Health and Wellbeing 5), 94-97.
    2020 Niimi, M., Butler, M., Drummond, S., Ogbuehi, K., & Parker, K. (2020). Designing Together: “Vision 2020: Co-Design Project". Scope: Contemporary Research Topics (Health and Wellbeing 5).
    2019 Butler, M. (2019). Social innovation to improve children’s vision.. Scope: Contemporary Research Topics (Learning and Teaching 8), 8, 6 pages.
    2019 Butler, M., McMullan, K., & Ryan, S. E. (2019). Lighting Prescriptions for Low Vision. Journal of Housing For the Elderly, 33(2), 189-203.
    DOI Scopus1
    2019 Helm, J., & Butler, M. (2019). ‘Going the Extra Mile’ for Clients in a Rural Community: Reflection on an Ethical Issue Faced on Fieldwork Placement. Scope: Contemporary Research Topics (Health and Wellbeing 4), 6 pages.
    2019 McMullan, K. S., & Butler, M. (2019). Low vision and mobility scooters: the experiences of individuals with low vision who use mobility scooters. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 14(6), 574-580.
    DOI Scopus3 WoS3 Europe PMC1
    2019 Hale, L. A., Jenkins, M. L., Mayland, B., Buttery, Y., Norris, P., Butler, M., . . . Kayes, N. (2019). Living with dementia: The felt worth of support workers. Ageing and Society, 41(7), 1-21.
    2019 McMullan, K., & Butler, M. (2019). Self-regulation when using a mobility scooter: The experiences of older adults with visual impairments. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 82(8), 512-521.
    DOI Scopus1 WoS1
    2019 Baigent, A., Wilson, L., & Butler, M. (2019). Reflective photography: An intervention to enable occupational therapists to explore spirituality. New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66(3), 11-14.
    2018 McKechnie, R., Jaye, C., Hale, B., Tordoff, J., Robertson, L., Simpson, J., & Butler, M. (2018). Transition Into Care:Experiences of the Elderly as they Move to Residential Aged Care. Sites: a journal of social anthropology and cultural studies, 15(2).
    2018 Priest, R., & Butler, M. (2018). Occupational Therapy and Evidenced-Based Supported Employment in Mental Health and Addictions: Showing the way or getting in the way?. Scope (Health & Wellbeing), 3, 3(Occupation), 145-152.
    2018 Murphy, T., & Butler, M. (2018). Losing Something of Value: An Exploration of Risk in Discharge Planning With Older People. New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65(2), 13-18.
    2017 Foster, C., & Butler, M. (2017). Occupational Therapists Understanding of Autonomy for People with Dementia. International Journal of Innovative Research in Medical Science, 2(12), 1583-1590.
    2017 Butler, M. (2017). Light and the health of Older Adults with Low Vision: A narrative Review. Scope, Health and Wellbeing (Activity),, 1, 45-54.
    2017 Butler, M. (2017). Visual Impairment following Acquired Brain Injury: A survey of Occupational Therapy Practice in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64(2), 32-38.
    2017 Butler, M. (2017). Professional Cultures: New Zealand Occupational Therapists Experience of an International Internship.. Scope, Health and Wellbeing, 2, 102-111.
    2017 Butler, M., & Derrett, S. (2017). Social Capital and the Political Economy of Recovery from Injury. International Journal of Innovative Research in Medical Science, 2(10), 1438-1449.
    2016 Butler, M. (2016). The role of occupational therapy in visual impairment in Aotearoa/New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63(1), 31-33.
    2016 Jaye, C., Tordoff, J., Butler, M., Hale, B., McKechnie, R., Robertson, L., & Simpson, J. (2016). Quality in residential care: Exploring residents, family members, managers and staff perspectives. Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, 17(4), 253-262.
    DOI Scopus4
    2016 Butler, M., Snook, B., & Buck, R. (2016). The Transformative Potential of Community Dance for People With Cancer. Qualitative Health Research, 26(14), 1928-1938.
    DOI Scopus2 WoS2 Europe PMC2
    2015 Jaye, C., Hale, B., Butler, M., McKechnie, R., Robertson, L., Simpson, J., . . . Young, J. (2015). One of us: Stories from two New Zealand rest homes. Journal of Aging Studies, 35, 135-143.
    DOI Scopus3
    2014 Butler, M. (2014). The Walking Interview: An Ethnographic Approach to Understanding Disability.. The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice, 12(3), 1-8.
    2011 Butler, M. (2011). Being, doing and belonging after brain injury: an ethnographic exploration of the capabilities approach. Sites: A Journal of Anthropology and Cultural Studies, 82(2), 57-76.
    2011 Butler, M. P., Derrett, S., & Colhoun, S. (2011). The lived experience of patients with uncertain medical diagnosis following a serious injury: A qualitative study. Disability and Rehabilitation, 33(23-24), 2247-2254.
    DOI Scopus5 WoS6 Europe PMC2
    2010 Butler, M. (2010). Care ethics and the payment of family carers: implications for occupational therapy. World Federation of Occupational Therapists Bulletin, 62(1), 46-52.
  • Books

    Year Citation
    2014 Barrett, P., Hale, B., & Butler, M. (2014). Family care and social capital: Transitions in informal care. Springer Netherlands.
    DOI Scopus15
  • Book Chapters

    Year Citation
    2016 Barrett, P., Butler, M., & Hale, B. (2016). Ethical Issues in Family Care Today. In Unknown Book (Vol. 34, pp. 67-87). Springer Publishing Company.
    DOI Scopus3 Europe PMC1
    2013 Butler, M. (2013). Ethical Reasoning: Internal and External Morality for Occupational Therapists. In Clinical Reasoning in Occupational Therapy: Controversies in Practice (pp. 31-44). John Wiley & Sons, Ltd,..
  • Conference Items

Year Grant/Funding Awarded Amount
2020 Community Awareness and Preparedness Grant Fund to support development of a radio show by VICTA $5000
2020 Contestable funding to develop a model underpinning a community centered fieldwork placement (with Jackie Herkt) $5000
2020 Contestable funding to develop consultation and analysis related to how students can meet bicultural competencies when on international placements (Penelope Kinney, James Sunderland, Shaz Bryant) $5000
2020 Contestable funding to interview students who have had an international clinically relevant volunteer experience (with Emilie Crossley) $5000
2020 Contestable funding to develop a survey and community of practice around Sleep and occupational therapy. $5000
2020 Participatory Science Platform grant to continue the Vision 2020 project and focus on the child's journey to get glasses $18,353
2020 Participatory Science Platform grant to co-design child-to-child vision screening $18,500
2019 Ombler Trust grant for project manager for child-to-child vision screening project $10,000
2018 Ombler Trust grant to develop vision simulation app. $1000
2017 Retina grant to study the use of vision simulation in education $7000
2017 Lottery Community Grant to purchase digital devices library for teaching people with low vision $7500
2016 Lighting the way for people with low vision. Science into Action funding from the Participatory Science Platform.  $15,777
2015-2018 Older People Driving Study/GPs and medical fitness to drive of older people. Leading the qualitative arm of the HRC funded study. Larger project $1m (PI Dr Rebecca Brookland). $18,000
2015-2018 Valuing those supporting people living with cognitive decline. Associate Investigator (PI Prof Leigh Hale) from Brain Research NZ. $104,971
2014 Accessibility using hand held devices for people with vision impairment (from the Pursuits Fund, Otago Polytechnic) $5000
2014 Otago Polytechnic Research Fund: examination of educational Mobilities $5000
2013 India New Zealand Research Trust. Travel award to study occupational therapy practice in India and to establish a New Zealand/India postgraduate internship. $5000
2011 Dean’s Bequest Fund. Pilot study on: “What is ‘quality’ in long term residential care for the aged: issues of alignment and misalignment in the provision of care?” $5000
2008-2011 ACC Postdoctoral award. Leading qualitative part of Prospective Outcomes of Injury Study, total funding $1.5million (PI Prof Sarah Derrett) $280,000
2003-2007 University of Otago PhD Scholarship $60,000 plus fees.


Prof. Butler has successfully supervised numerous HDR and Honours students to completion, bringing in funding to support many of these projects and provide employment opportunities for her students. 

Prof. Butler has a student-centered approach, with strengths in relationship building, knowledge of learners, and research informed teaching. She has a reputation as a patient and caring teacher, who engages students and motivates them to succeed. She believes that learning is a transformative process for both student and teacher alike. 

  • Board Memberships

    Date Role Board name Institution name Country
    2020 - ongoing Member Occupational Therapy Board of New Zealand . New Zealand
    2017 - ongoing Member Vision Impairment Charitable Trust Aotearoa . New Zealand
  • Committee Memberships

    Date Role Committee Institution Country
    2018 - ongoing Member Program Approvals Committee Otago Polytechnic New Zealand
    2018 - ongoing Chair Ethics B Committee at the School of Occupational Therapy Otago Polytechnic New Zealand
    2018 - 2018 Chair Organising Committee Save Sight Symposium New Zealand
    2017 - 2017 Member Scientific Committee member of the 8th Mobilities Symposium, School of Physiotherapy University of Otago New Zealand
    2017 - ongoing Member Research and Postgraduate Committee Otago Polytechnic New Zealand
    2017 - ongoing Member Internal Evaluation Team Otago Polytechnic New Zealand
    2016 - ongoing Member Ethics Committee Otago Polytechnic New Zealand
    2016 - ongoing Convener Staff Subcommittee Otago Polytechnic New Zealand
  • Memberships

    Date Role Membership Country
    1993 - ongoing Member Occupational Therapy New Zealand Association New Zealand
  • Editorial Boards

    Date Role Editorial Board Name Institution Country
    2018 - 2020 Editor Scope (Health and Wellbeing) Otago Polytechnic New Zealand
  • Review, Assessment, Editorial and Advice

    Date Title Type Institution Country
    2020 - 2020 Reviewer Peer Review Numerous journals including Art and Health, Australian Journal of Occupational Therapy, NZ Journal of Occupational Therapy
    2016 - 2016 Reviewer Thesis Review Deakin University Australia
    2015 - 2017 Reviewer Peer Review Medical Principles and Practice; Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy; British Journal of Occupational Therapy; NZ Journal of Occupational Therapy; Disability and Rehabilitation.
    2015 - 2015 Reviewer Grant Assessment The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research, and Development Grant proposals submitted to the Ethics and Health Programme.
  • Position: Program Head, Occupational Therapy
  • Phone: 83133601
  • Email:
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Engineering Science and Maths, floor 4
  • Room: EM4 06
  • Org Unit: School of Allied Health Science and Practice

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