Our Founders and history

Aruma's Founders, Lionel Watts and E.W. (Bill) Tipping, were trailblazers, changing the world of disability in their own way.

Aruma: a history spanning nearly 60 years

Aruma is the next version of House with No Steps and The Tipping Foundation.

The organisations were founded by two trailblazing families – Lionel and Dorothy Watts, and E.W. ‘Bill’ Tipping.

Lionel Watts: A pioneer and trailblazer

Lionel watts as a young man

People like Lionel Watts don’t come around very often. His determination, conviction and courage changed the lives of people with a disability all over Australia.

At age 28, happily married to his wife Dorothy with two children, Lionel contracted polio.

He developed quadriplegia, his weight dropped to 32 kilograms, and he spent two years recovering in hospital.

“When I first became disabled, I looked around and I tried to find my way back into the community. I hadn’t really looked at my reflection and in my own mind I still considered myself as being fairly able, rather than disabled.”

– Lionel Watts.

When Lionel returned home, he faced one of society’s greatest barriers – prejudice.

While fighting to return to work, he was knocked back time and time again.

Worse still, he was turned away by rehabilitation centres who claimed he was too badly handicapped to be rehabilitated.

Fortunately, Lionel didn’t take no for an answer. He knew if it was happening to him, it was happening to others. So, he set out to change the world for people with a disability. With the help of his peers and Dorothy, in 1962 House with No Steps was born.

Breaking down barriers, quite literally.

Lionel and the Aruma team improving accessibility

While at the helm of House with No Steps, Lionel continued to break down the barriers people with a disability faced every day.

His first step? Using only basic parts from a disposal store, he built an electric wheelchair out of a deck-chair.

This chair would become one of Australia’s first ever electric wheelchairs and helped kick-start the electric wheelchair movement.

But he didn’t stop there. When a friend described Sydney’s Central Station as ‘a disabled person’s chamber of horrors’ he found inspiration.

Now the chairman of the architectural barriers committee for ACROD, Lionel set about campaigning for better wheelchair access for all Australians.

  • He introduced parking permits for people with a disability
  • He made it compulsory for all public buildings to be accessible by wheelchair
  • He introduced ramps on all footpaths. And on every crossing.

Lionel’s ideas would forever change the world of disability, building, planning and architecture. In the most concrete of ways.

Leaving a legacy

Lionel as an older man

In 1969, Lionel received further recognition for his great contribution to the welfare of people with a disability by being awarded an M.B.E. in the New Year’s Honours.

In 1982, Lionel was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his work in rehabilitation.

While Lionel sadly passed away in 2000, his legacy will live on forever in the organisation he and Dorothy established – Aruma.

E.W. (Bill) Tipping: A voice for disability

Bill Tipping with his son Peter

Dubbed ‘Mr. Melbourne’ for his charisma and award-winning skills, E.W. “Bill” Tipping was a well-known journalist.

A family man, Bill was married to Marjorie and had three sons. His youngest, Peter, had cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability.

With Peter as his strength, Bill began to fight for the rights of people with a disability. His eyes were squarely focused on this cause, and that’s when conditions at the Kew Cottages, an institution for children with an intellectual disability, came to his attention. And he was horrified.

Being a journalist, Bill knew he had a platform few could access, so he didn’t just speak about the conditions at the cottages, he yelled. And people stood up and took notice.

Over 13,000 people donated to ‘The Tipping Appeal’ to help improve the cottages. £47,798 was raised – a pretty big number for 1953! The Victorian Government matched the funds, and after the improvements, Peter – Bill’s youngest – went to live at the cottages.

Sadly, Peter passed away just three years later – but his son’s passing didn’t stop Bill’s fight for social justice.

The Tipping Foundation was born

Portrait of Bill Tipping

Bill was again thrust into the disability spotlight in 1970, when a gentleman named Ken called a Melbourne radio station.

Ken had a daughter, Belinda, who had a disability. He asked a hard-hitting question – ‘what will happen to Belinda when I’m gone?’

Unfortunately, back then if parents were unable to care for their child with a disability, an institution was often the only option.

People started calling the station – they remembered Bill’s stories from the 1950s about Kew Cottages. Public pressure mounted, and there were calls for a public meeting to address this important issue.

On 2 April 1970 almost 1,700 people attended a meeting at the Melbourne Town Hall. They needed a solution.

And they found one – they established a foundation which would allow people with a disability to live in homes in the community instead.

Named in honour of the man who inspired it all, The Tipping Foundation began.

Our new chapter as Aruma

Man with Down syndrome laughing

In March 2018, House with No Steps and The Tipping Foundation came together to shape the future with the same determination as our Founders.

With a mix of backgrounds and experiences, we had a common thread – a passion and commitment for supporting people with a disability to live a great life.

In July 2019, this passion and commitment united under a new name – Aruma.

Aruma is here for a new age. A trailblazer, a human rights warrior. A leader. A driving force with energy and enthusiasm.

We’re excited to take you on Aruma’s new journey.

Read more about Aruma’s story.