Helen, Deborah & Ken will be working with the following academic staff from the University of Reading namely Professor Suzanne Graham (Principal Investigator), Professor Richard Griffith (Computer Science/Cybernetics Dept.),Dr Yota Dimitriadi (Educational Technology) & Ilan Dwek (ISLI Course Tutor)


Little attention has been given to supporting Deaf students in Higher Education and in harnessing the potential of online learning for optimising their academic success. Working closely with two stakeholder groups, we will identify and evaluate the optimal conditions (pace, structure, literacy of subtitles and signs) for presenting complex text based information online. This collaborative cross disciplinary research will develop new understandings of the meaning of access in relation to conceptual understanding, a major gap in the research literature. We will evaluate how these conditions benefit other groups of learners and produce guidance for providers of online learning material.

Significance & Originality

Deaf children underachieve throughout the course of their education with consequently poorer trajectories for employment and wellbeing. Through targeting University providers, we aim to challenge low expectations and aspirations of Deaf learners and the HE community.

Accessibility is in danger of being narrowly defined, determined by compliance and efficiency, custom and practice, rather than based on robust measures of effectiveness. This research will challenge those [mis]understandings. Its originality lies with identifying the parameters under which different student groups learn best with respect to pace, structure, subtitles and visual supports, in the context of online provision. It will contribute theoretically to our understanding of access to learning and the technology that underpins it. The data will have policy as well as practical implications.

This research is particularly timely. Following an EU directive, new regulations require public bodies to be proactive with respect to digital accessibility. These guidelines however don’t require the use of sign language and, in consequence, there is the danger that the deaf learner is increasingly marginalized. In contrast this research seeks to place the deaf learner in the vanguard of leading developments in good pedagogic practice, that will benefit a wide range of additional learners, both disabled and non-disabled. This shifts the innovatory practices arising from of our research from what might be considered as a niche area, to form the backbone of strategies to raise the achievements of all.

This research has wider significance and relevance. In an information age, we are all digital learners, required to absorb and understand complex new information, instructions and technical vocabulary. The findings therefore have broader implications, with particular significance for senior “learners” who will be enabled to access more challenging and thought provoking material.