New Zealand's first woman chief film sensor and a blind acupuncturist determined to improve the lives of people with disabilities are two of the people being recognised at an awards night in Wellington tomorrow.

The Massey University Defining Excellence Awards is on tomorrow, celebrating alumni and staff.

Auckland man Ivan Pivac is receiving the distinguished service award after 40 years of practising acupuncture, as well as running a business importing technology to help people live better lives while dealing with a disability.

Pivac, who has been blind since the age of 12 when he was hit in the eyes with a tennis ball, said it was a "great privilege" to be getting the award.


"Over the years there 143,000 students gone through Massey, and they give four of these [distinguished alumni] awards a year," he said.

Ivan Pivac says being blind may be an advantage for him in his work as an acupuncturist. Photo / File
Ivan Pivac says being blind may be an advantage for him in his work as an acupuncturist. Photo / File

"I would most probably have better luck winning Lotto to be honest, so yes, it is a great privilege as you can imagine and really quite unexpected too."

Pivac studied at Massey in the 80s and has spent much of his life working to support others by importing technology, particularly for those suffering brain injuries.

"I realised many years ago science wasn't really good enough to get people walking again and talking again, but technology was coming along and that would help fill the gap.

"Being blind, I can do 98 per cent of what I want to do. There's always some little thing that you don't think about that strikes you every day, that you think 'oh, I wish I could just do that' ... this question of independence has always been very important."

Being blind doesn't affect his ability to practise acupuncture "at all", and in fact he might have an advantage over people with sight.

"When you're an acupuncturist the points that you're putting needles into are really quite small ... being blind, you've got a good sense of touch. I can feel for bumps and depressions."

He said acupuncture was traditionally an occupation for blind people in Japan, and today about 50 per cent of Japan's acupuncturists are blind or visually impaired."


The top award goes to NZ on Air chief executive Jane Wrightson.

Wrightson, who in 1991 became New Zealand's youngest – and first woman – chief film censor, said she was "astonished" to be receiving the Sir Geoffrey Peren award.

"It was an extraordinary telephone call to get, and firstly I go 'why me?'

"I've never been honoured like this before."

She is known as a champion for diversity in local content and public media for New Zealand audiences and a passionate advocate for increased media access for those with disabilities, including the vision-impaired.

Wrightson was born and raised in the provinces and believes that helped her bring a different perspective to her career.

"I think it makes you a bit pragmatic, I think it makes you understand that there is a life outside the urban bubble."

Wrightson said she was privileged to have "some really interesting jobs" over her career.

"Being the head of NZ on Air at a time of extraordinary disruption and media change" was something she was particularly proud of.

"Things move far too fast to make any sense until you look back on them. I'm proud to have led this agency through that time."

At the moment Wrightson is volunteering her time to provide one-on-one literacy and life skills tutoring to women at Arohata Prison.

"This has got to be the most interesting and humbling thing I've done for a long time. I'm way out of my middle-class bubble here.

"The biggest thing I've learned is that people's lives can go to pieces very quickly if you take a wrong path quite early."

She urged people to consider doing similar work.

Also receiving awards tomorrow are Fashion designer Chloe Julian and coastal dunes expert Patrick Hesp.

Distinguished Young Alumni Award winner Julian became lead designer in London for the company's Stella McCartney brand at age 26.

She later worked as head designer for David Beckham Bodywear and in the same role for cult lingerie brand Agent Provocateur. Julian now lives in Auckland, managing a Los Angeles-based team for TechStyle Fashion Group and is vice-president for a new brand the company is launching this year.

The Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award is going to Professor Patrick Hesp, who became passionate about coastal dunes during summers spent at Waitarere Beach in Horowhenua.

Hesp is a strategic professor at Flinders University in Adelaide. His expertise in coastal dune geomorphology, dynamics and management is considered unrivalled and his surf-zone-beach-dune interactions model is the most widely cited of its type in coastal literature.