Transforming support for d/Deaf students

Innovations in technology and the vital role of skilled professionals

In May 2014, BRITE and Nated Scotland curated an international conference hosted at Edinburgh University, where 100 delegates came together to evaluate a range of cutting edge strategies to support d/Deaf students at college and university. Two key themes of the day were the potential of mobile and web-based technology to revolutionise the provision of communication services, and the vital importance of skilled professionals to manage and deliver support for students.

iPad photo_Edit The image shows a sign language interpreter at the University of Cincinnati communicate with a student. The student accesses live video of the interpreter on his iPad. He could be based elsewhere on campus, or even off-campus e.g. having an informal study session at a classmate’s home. This system provides students with a new level of flexibility in how they access communication services. Research into the implications of this mode of service delivery was the subject of our keynote presentation.

A summary of the presentations and key topics follows. To request a copy of the conference brochure, transcripts of the presentations, or copies of slides, please contact Kellie Mote at

Support and assessment

Our engaging student presenters, Abigail and Glen, emphasised how essential it is to have consistency in support and an appropriate assessment of needs. This was echoed by Nated Scotland representative and Lecturer in Deaf Education, Rachel O’Neill, who introduced resources available from Nated Scotland to help colleges to find and train the right people to manage support for d/Deaf students. These resources include free advice and sample job descriptions.

Live remote captioning

An exploration of the possibilities of mobile and web-based technology began with Chris McKenzie of Strathclyde University, who presented a timeline of the university’s commitment to developing a remote captioning service for students – where students receive live captions (subtitles) on their laptop, tablet, or even phone during a class or lecture.

Denise Bob-Jones of Ai-Live – provider of live captioning services to Strathclyde Uni – shared practical information on how this service is delivered by captioners based off-site. Everyone had the opportunity to see the service in action, as an Ai-Live employee provided live captions for the morning of the conference.

Electronic note-taking

Electronic Note-taking is in some ways similar to live captioning as it provides real time access to language. However, rather than relating all that is being said verbatim, ENTs are skilled at summarising and using appropriate language and grammar – creating useful notes to support the student’s study.

Miriam Marchi of DeNoted discussed how digital pens can be a useful device for instances where a keyboard is not the right tool to capture content.

Louisa McDaid of NoteText provided an explanation of the work of the ENT and highlighted the professionalism that should be expected of ENTs. Worryingly, there are very few opportunities to train as an ENT in the UK, which means that students may be missing out on this essential form of communication support.

Language tutorials

This theme of staff skills was continued in an engaging presentation by Lynne Barnes of the University of Central Lancashire. Lynne talked about the practice of providing d/Deaf students with language tutorials and the difference these can make. Language tutorials are not currently common practice in Scotland and are rarely recommended by needs assessors. Hopefully, Lynne’s presentation has raised awareness of this useful support strategy and will encourage colleges and universities to adopt it.

Remote Sign Language Interpreting

Remote services were revisited – this time with regard to interpreting – by John Brownlie of Sign Video. Sign Video provides access to an interpreter via a laptop, mobile, or tablet. It is used by individuals at work (funded by Access to Work) and by service providers to connect with Deaf customers. The Scottish Qualifications Authority currently uses Sign Video. John stressed that the work of a video interpreter can be physically demanding and recommends interpreters only work a limited number of hours in this way.

iPads as a bridge to services

On-demand remote interpreting is the research interest of our keynote presenters who joined us from the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, USA.

Service co-ordinator and interpreter, Katherine Vance, described a system where interpreting is provided by an office-based interpreter who receives the audio of a situation and signs to camera. The live ASL video is accessed by the student on an iPad.

Dr Suzanne Ehrlich joined us via Skype to discuss the project and the ways in which technology might influence interpreting services in the future. Click here to view a previous lecture by Dr Ehrlich on this research.

This system opens up possibilities for students to access short sessions of interpreting in settings outside the lecture theatre, classroom – even off-campus. Challenges included the reduced ‘signing space’, initial connectivity issues and a lack of prep materials or co-interpreter. However, the system proved to be popular with students, having a positive impact on their performance.

Captioning YouTube Videos

Our afternoon ‘techie’ section saw BRITE assistive technologist, Fil McIntyre, give a real-world demonstration and evaluation of adding subtitles to YouTube videos. This process is addressed in more detail in this earlier blog post by Fil.

Audiological support and transition

A panel discussion looked at the topic of listening devices to improve the clarity of sound received by a hearing aid or a cochlear implant. Joe O’Donnell, educational audiologist at Donaldson’s School, began with a video demonstrating why such devices are vital in a classroom. Representatives from Connevans, Phonak and iHear talked about products popular with students and the latest developments in this area of technology. Joe gave further guidance on effective use of such devices, emphasising the importance of attitudes as well as technology.

Exhibition and sponsors

A lively exhibition area gave delegates the opportunity to network and to speak one-to-one to conference presenters. Additional exhibitors included NDCS Scotland and Ecophon. Both BRITE and Nated Scotland felt it was important that finances should not be a barrier to attendance and we appreciate the contributions of our sponsors, iHear and Ecophon, in helping us to keep the conference free of charge.

Conclusions and next steps

Feedback on the conference was extremely positive and Nated Scotland is delighted to report that they have been approached by 3 colleges/organisations interested in joining the committee.

Feedback from delegates indicated that the professional development event they would prefer to happen next is a day focusing on assessing the needs of d/Deaf students. The conference team is committed to making this happen, most likely in the spring term of 2015.

Note that Nated UK has changed its name to Adept (Association of Deaf Education Professionals and Trainees) and that Nated Scotland will soon be known as Adept Scotland.

Further information

To request a copy of the conference brochure, transcripts of the presentations, or copies of slides, please contact Kellie Mote at All the presenters are active on LinkedIn, so why not check them out there too?

One thought on “Transforming support for d/Deaf students

  1. Pingback: Conference summary | NATED Scotland

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