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Transforming deaf learners’ multiliteracies into sustainable educational approaches: Our new international project is launched

20 September, 2017

The iSLanDS Institute and Lancaster University (LU) have won a £436,000 grant to promote reading, writing, sign language, technology and multimodal communication, improving the education of deaf people in developing countries. This follows our pilot which examined innovative ways to teach literacy to deaf learners.

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Research assistants and peer tutors from the pilot project celebrate the end of their first two weeks of training at the National Institute of Speech and Hearing (NISH) in Kerala, India, with co-investigators Sibaji Panda (far right) and Uta Papen (sixth from right).

Our new study, entitled ‘Peer to Peer Deaf Multiliteracies: Research into a sustainable approach to the education of deaf children and young adults in the Global South’, will work with deaf children and young adults in India, Uganda, and Ghana, and include outreach to two additional countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. This 3-year project is funded by the Education and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID), through their joint scheme Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems.

To address the longstanding problem of deaf people’s insufficient access to schools in the developing world, and their resulting lack of employment, income, life quality and fulfilment, this study expands and further entrenches the pilot’s cost-effective and learner-directed literacy teaching methods. These methods have involved peer-to-peer teaching by local deaf tutors, supported by deaf research assistants (RAs) in India, Ghana and Uganda. Their work is bolstered in the UK including through our online app Sign Language to English for the Deaf (SLEND) and the adaptation of appropriate assessment methods.

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The Director of iSLanDS, Professor Ulrike Zeshan OBE, explained: “I am particularly delighted that we are working with a broader range of partners in this project. For instance, in India, one partner specialises in working with deaf women, and another operates a deaf primary school in a rural setting. I believe we also have the right partners to engage with policy makers in all target countries, and will develop a curriculum for deaf Language and Literacy Trainers in order to make a difference to educational practice.”

Professor Uta Papen, the Director of Lancaster University’s Literacy Research Centre, is leading the training of tutors and RAs in the project’s learner-centred approach to curriculum development and assessment. She commented: “From my experience working on the pilot project in India, I know how important it is that literacy teaching builds on what learners know already, and what they want to use reading and writing for. It is essential that it supports their real needs, rather than being imposed through a largely irrelevant programme created elsewhere. This is the case for children as well as adults. For the deaf learners in the countries who take part in our project, it is essential that reading and writing in English is supported together with other means of communication in particular sign languages.”

To identify generalisable, flexible models that can be taken up by educational providers in the developing world, the project considers the similarities and differences across educational systems in the different countries. It focuses throughout on the agency of deaf learners, researchers, tutors, and educators who implement the interventions.

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Sibaji Panda, a deaf research consultant working for UCLan in India, concludes: “We believe in ‘deaf-led research’ as the most appropriate approach to our work. The new Indian team looks energetic and armed with experience from the pilot.”

Our UK team also includes Dr Daniel Waller, UCLan, who is particularly responsible for learner assessment, and Dr Julia Gillen, LU, who is working with Phil Tubman, an LU Learning Technologist, to support the online sharing spaces. Our project partners include the Delhi Foundation of Deaf Women and the Rural Lifeline Trust in India, the University of Ghana, Makerere University in Uganda, and the Uganda National Association of the Deaf.


Indian signers prepare to cross language boundaries at SIGNSPACE workshop

4 September, 2017

Thank you to our Indian colleagues, participants and project partners for hosting the second workshop in our SIGNSPACE project. A group of deaf participants worked intensively for two days in June to test and create training materials for the innovative online portal being developed in this exciting project.


The aim of SIGNSPACE is for signers to communicate across language boundaries, build meta-linguistic awareness, use sign languages bilingually and multilingually, and interact remotely with people who use different sign languages. On the first day of the workshop, 30 participants provided feedback to the project team about the training materials developed so far, and then on the second day a smaller sub-group assembled further materials to add to the portal.

Professor Ulrike Zeshan, principal investigator of the project, commented: “The SIGNSPACE development is a new way of bringing deaf communities from different countries together to work on issues of importance to them, and this workshop focussed on meta-linguistic competences for communication across different sign languages. I am grateful to our partners in Vadodara, Mook Badhir Mandal and Ishara Foundation, for hosting this workshop”.

This is the second in a series of workshops that the team is undertaking in several countries. The next workshop will take place this November in Hungary, organised by our partner Dolphio.

UK-China Partnership visit: Deaf students and teachers explore visual ways to learn English

24 July, 2017

We would like to congratulate our Deaf Studies colleagues for a successful academic staff exchange trip to China last month as part of the UK-China Partnership Project, funded by the British Council. The iSLanDS Institute has been honoured to be involved in this exciting three-year project led by our colleague Dr Junhui Yang, which focusses on using an on-line learning platform to teach English to deaf students.

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Dr Junhui Yang with Clark Denmark and Yao Jian, the project webmaster


Dr Yang visited four universities in Beijing, Zhengzhou and Xuzhou alongside long-time deaf community educator and scholar Clark Denmark, whose MA by Research thesis was undertaken at iSLanDS and analysed the efficacy of an interactive learning platform for deaf Indian learners of English as a second language.

They delivered sessions at each of the four universities to demonstrate this innovative on-line and interactive learning approach, highlighting the use of multiple language dictionaries produced in cooperation with Spread the Sign in Sweden, which feature English, Chinese, and multiple sign languages. The trip also included a two-day workshop on 24 and 25 June at Zhongzhou University (ZZU) in Zhengzhou City, with 50 participants, including teachers and students from deaf schools and universities, and people from the local community.

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Workshop participants at ZZU on 25 June


Dr Yang commented: “The Chinese participants were extremely interested in our Deaf Studies degree course at UCLan, and the training of sign language interpreters in the UK. They asked many questions about course delivery and the support provision that enables deaf students to access higher education in Britain. We also met some deaf entrepreneurs and business owners who showed us that deaf people are experiencing increasing success at work in China.”

She said that English teachers face the challenge of teaching deaf learners who have had to cope with insufficient access to education, and thus lack foundational skills in written Chinese on which to build their English. The participants found the dictionaries and on-line approach motivating in terms of addressing this challenge, and academics from several countries came together to discuss the project’s aim of successfully exploiting visual teaching and learning methods that are naturally more conducive to deaf learners.

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Clark delivers a session at Beijing Union University


She added: “There was a high level of interest in the project, and especially in Clark Denmark, who is very well known and prestigious in sign language teaching and applied research, and has an amazing amount of knowledge and experience. It was interesting when they commented that British Sign Language was easier to understand and begin to learn than American Sign Language!”

“This all happened as a result of the British Council’s incredible support in making the project possible, for which we are really grateful.”

Congratulations to our colleagues and all the academics and participants in the UK-China Partnership on their impressive work throughout this project so far.

Two July sessions for our iSLanDS Seminar Series

21 June, 2017

We are pleased to invite you to two summer sessions in our iSLanDS 2017 Seminar Series.

The first is our Special Session on Chinese Sign Language, which takes place on Wednesday 12 July at 4–5.30pm in Livesey House LH227 here at UCLan. For this session we are delighted to have two talks, one by Dr Xiaochi Zhao from Nanjing Normal University of Special Education entitled ‘On the Construction and Application of Chinese Sign Language Vocabulary Corpus’, and the other by Dr Hongyu Liu, entitled ‘Clitic or lexical word? Another look at the nature of one crucial completive aspectual marker in Chinese Sign Language’. English-BSL interpreting will be provided for this event.

The second seminar is our Round Table Discussion on Sign Language Syntax, which will be held on Monday 17 July at 3-4pm in Harrington Building HA337. We are hosting this seminar as part of a special visit by Dr Gabrielle Hodge from University College London’s Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre. The round table will concentrate mostly on the syntax of British Sign Language (BSL) and Australian Sign Language (Auslan). This discussion will take place in BSL.

We look forward to welcoming you to these events, which are open to everyone, and we would like to thank all of the participants and presenters who have contributed to our well-attended 2017 seminars.

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iSLanDS goes to ISLOJ to share knowledge on Indonesian Sign Language

26 May, 2017

Our research fellow Nick Palfreyman has opened the Sixth International Symposium on the Languages of Java (ISLOJ), which took place in Semarang, Central Java, at the end of last week (18-19 May 2017).

Nick’s presentation, Towards a typology of grammatical negation in BISINDO, is part of a concerted effort to raise the profile of Indonesian Sign Language (BISINDO) in the academic community.

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Nick gives his presentation at the ISLOJ conference.

He was joined by Ferdiyanto Turut (‘Yanto’), a member of the Indonesian deaf community, in a move made possible by support from PUPET (our Indonesia hub), with funding from UCLAN.

After the symposium, Nick and Yanto went to Solo, where they met with members of the local deaf community to share information about their experiences.

“One of the aims of PUPET is to share research skills with deaf Indonesians,” Nick explained, “so I’m really pleased that Yanto was able to come to the conference. It was great to share this new experience with him!”

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Nick with Yanto, a member of the Indonesian deaf community who lives in Bali.

We asked Yanto to share his impressions with us. He said, “I had never been to an event like this before, and I found it thrilling to learn more about linguistics, it was an inspiration for me. I will benefit from this a lot, as I plan to conduct research myself in future.

“I was also happy to see hearing academics learning more about Indonesian Sign Language.”

Deaf signers in Java support our cutting-edge SIGNSPACE workshop

18 May, 2017

We’d like to thank our 16 deaf Indonesian participants for sharing their expertise and giving us feedback at our three-day SIGNSPACE workshop last week in Bekasi, West Java.

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The workshop, funded by the European Research Council, UCLan, and the Leverhulme Trust, was held from 11-13 May and aimed to test the effectiveness of materials created as part of our new SIGNSPACE project. It also provided an opportunity for participants to improve their skills in communicating with people who use other sign languages.

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Two participants, Firda and Hani, examine the SIGNSPACE materials


As we showed through our MULTISIGN project, signers can harness advantages of the visual-gestural modality, such as visually-motivated iconicity, to rapidly develop communication with other signers who use different languages. Focussing on these advantages and meta-linguistic skills, SIGNSPACE is creating online and app-based materials to allow signers to build connections with other deaf people around the world, in order to share experiences and increase their individual and community capacity.

The participants, including 10 from Bekasi and six from Solo, discussed these materials and also wanted to concentrate on knowledge transfer related to deaf identity, organisational development and leadership skills. Sessions on deaf identity, sign language, and deaf stories, lives, spaces, history were led by our research fellow Nick Palfreyman. Advocacy and lobbying sessions were led by co-facilitator Muhammad Isnaini, our Indonesian hub co-ordinator, who showed participants how to organise effectively to advance the rights of deaf Indonesians.

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Participants use a ‘statue’ activity to explore the meaning of leadership


Nick said: ‘Muhammad and I are delighted to have had this opportunity to share skills and experiences with deaf signers from Bekasi and Solo. Participants from each city quickly became firm friends, referring to themselves informally as the “BekSol” group! We are very pleased with their responses, and we look forward to following up on this success with a second workshop later this year.’

UNESCO post for our PhD student Rita Huhua Fan

17 May, 2017

Many congratulations to our PhD student, Rita Huhua Fan, on the commencement of her prestigious post at UNESCO in Paris. Working in UNESCO’s Education Sector, she is focussing on how ICT is used, monitored and evaluated in education. Her role, entitled Associate Project Officer at the ICT in Education Unit, involves coordinating the Leveraging ICT to Achieve Education 2030 project and its related publications.


As a PhD student working on our deaf literacy project, she is currently writing a thesis with the working title, ‘A developmental evaluation of an e-learning ecosystem for Deaf adult learners’ English literacy attainment in India’, and plans to submit in 2018. She said that her learning at iSLanDS during her doctoral studies and through her publication work has been very useful in paving the way for this exciting post at UNESCO. She commented:

‘Having worked in the field of education for several years with a recent shift to digital education, this role at the ICT in Education Unit at UNESCO is ideal for me. It is quite challenging and I also feel excited to work with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

‘Without my experience at iSLanDS, I would not have been able to get this job. I benefitted from my studies at iSLanDS in many aspects, including gathering international project experience in the Peer to Peer Deaf literacy project, improving my research skills, and gaining experience in publishing at Ishara Press. I am now familiar with the entire process of producing research publications in an international context, which is hugely advantageous in my new position as well as being an indispensable part of an academic career.

‘But it was the transformative, deaf-led approaches and the special attention paid to ethics at iSLanDS that have had perhaps the greatest impact on my personal values. I feel that studying at an institute that is leading in this area will have a long-term impact on my future career.’

Please join us in congratulating Rita and wishing her the best success at UNESCO.