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New chair appointed for Life Unlimited

Wellington independent director Karen Coutts has been appointed the Life Unlimited Charitable Trust interim chair from July 1, 2021.

She will lead a new organisation, the result of a merger between two disability trusts, AccessAbility and Life Unlimited.

Other trustees include three from the previous AccessAbility trust board and three from Life Unlimited.

They are: Mary Cave-Palmer, Vaughan Mikkelson, and Tiffiney Perry (from the previous Life Unlimited board) and Gary Williams, Michelle Bentham and Pati Umaga (from AccessAbility board). See Governance.

Karen Coutts
Rachel Stephenson
Rachel Stephenson
John Dobson
John Dobson

Previous board chairs John Dobson and Rachel Stephenson have stood down; Dobson after 42 years as chair of Life Unlimited and Stephenson after 13 years on the AccessAbility board and nine years as chair.

Karen has had a life-time involvement in the disability sector firstly through her mother Margaret Coutts who lost her hearing from scarlet fever as a child.

Margaret was actively involved in administration for the New Zealand Deaf Sports Association and a key leader in achieving the hosting of the World Deaf Games in 1989 in Christchurch.

She was also active in many other activities in the community such as setting up the deaf senior citizens’ group.

“She inspired me as she was always positive and proud of her deafness,” said Karen who started her career in the sector in England where she was a social worker with deaf people and then led a team of workers for disabled children and their families and sensory-impaired adults.

The innovative service delivery model was dual competency based – disability support plus statutory services led by the rights of people with disabilities.

Back in New Zealand she led and delivered successful transformations of services, large organisations, sector and systems through changes in priorities, purpose and ethos, use of technology innovation and efficient shift of resources.

“I aspire to organisations providing to the needs of individuals and community in an inclusive manner and support collective impact approaches,” said Karen.

In her role as principal advisor for Te Puni Kōkiri, the Government’s principal advisor on Māori outcomes, she focused on supporting Māori-led approaches with a strong response to Māori economic development.

Karen has been a member of the New Zealand Parole Board since November 2019 and Te Rūnanga o Moeraki representative on Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, the leadership body for Ngāi Tahu since 2016.

“I’ve seen the work both Life Unlimited and AccessAbility have done in the disability sector and I’m excited to lead an organisation which is fit for the future and responding to transformed thinking of how to uphold the rights and meet the needs of disabled people and their whānau,” said Karen.


About AccessAbility and Life Unlimited

  • AccessAbility employs 50 people to provide Needs Assessment and Service Coordination (NASC) and Local Area Coordination (LAC) services in Otago, Southland, Whanganui, Taranaki, and Bay of Plenty through Ministry of Health and DHB contracts.
  • In addition, it owns Imagine Better a separate charitable company which provides research, training and advocacy on disability-related topics and issues, and Journey Together providing Local Area Co-ordination services in the Bay of Plenty/Lakes District.
  • Life Unlimited employs 80 people and holds several government contracts to provide autism, hearing and disability services and information; provide NASC and LAC disability support in Hutt Valley and Tairāwhiti and community programmes in the Waikato.
  • It also operates equipment and advice stores under the brand ‘Mobility Centre’ in Hamilton, Tauranga, Hastings and Lower Hutt as well as an Online Store.

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