KOKUA observes four decades of Manoa service

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Jim Manke, (808) 956-6099
UH Manoa Chancellor's Office
Ann Ito, (808) 956-7511
Posted: Sep 5, 2006

On Wednesday, September 6, 2006, the KOKUA Program celebrates its fortieth anniversary as the designated unit providing a wide range of disability access services to students with disabilities on the Manoa campus of the University of Hawaii.

This history and the description of KOKUA‘s assistance programs were prepared by Ann Ito, program director:

Established in 1966 as one of the nation‘s first university offices for disabled students, the Kokua program had two initial academic support charges: a campus-wide peer tutorial primarily for freshmen and sophomores and a "handicapped" services mission, notably for wheelchair users and the blind. One such student, a blind freshman whom Kokua began serving in 1966, Mary Kuʻulei Kaikainahaole coined the phrase "Kahi O Ka UluʻAna," thereby transforming Kokua into KOKUA — "the Place of Growing." A sociology major with a teaching certificate, Mary pioneered research in Hawaiian herbs.

While the university had willingly created KOKUA out of an ethical responsibility to support otherwise qualified disabled students, shortly after KOKUA‘s first decade, the first civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability status was implemented and universities across the nation would gradually take action to comply with these new federal requirements.

In its first two decades, KOKUA employed thousands of student tutors/aides
serving thousands more Manoa students, inaugurated a pre-HandiVan accessible
service for wheelchair students and, provided daily academic access services, e.g., priority registration, faculty liaison, reader services, note taking, testing accommodation, access counseling, etc., to a population with hitherto unseen disabilities, e.g., learning disabilities, terminal illness, brain injury, etc.

In 1994, KOKUA moved from the Bachman annexes into the Queen Liliʻuokalani
Center for Student Services, culminating its transfer from academic affairs to student affairs. Shortly thereafter, inundated by disabled students, KOKUA phased out the general tutorial and focused exclusively on disability access.

Today, KOKUA serves forty times as many students as it did in the fall of 1966. Students are in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs and surmount the challenges of many learning, psychiatric, and physical disabilities. Staff has grown to six specialists and funds have been generously augmented by administrative, legislative and donor action.

Though changes in administration, facilities, mandates, people, numbers and technology have transformed KOKUA, what remains is its steadfast commitment to respecting students with documented disabilities amidst their vast abilities, and to working constructively and conscientiously with each of them, their professors, and the entire campus community to ensure that they have an equal opportunity to pursue and achieve their educational objectives.