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.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.

Professor Mary Butler is available as a supervisor for PhD students

Mary does 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.

Research projects available:
Title: Vision 2020 - integrating vision screening into the classroom context.
Project description: Childhood vision challenges are frequently overlooked and critical to the success of our children. We provide intuitive tools for in-classroom vision screening. The Vision 20/20 Project is a multi-disciplinary research collaboration between occupational therapy, product design, optometry and primary teachers. The next phase of the project will involve following up teachers who have integrated the toolkit in the classroom context.
You can learn more about this project here:

Projects available for: Honours / HDR / Masters / Mphil
Location: AHMS (Adelaide Health & Medical Sciences Building, North Tce);
Research project start: 2021
Special requirements: N/A



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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External Profiles