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Peer-to-Peer Deaf Literacy

Our project on the peer-to-peer teaching of deaf literacy, entitled "Literacy development with deaf communities using sign language, peer tuition, and learner-generated online content: sustainable educational innovation” is a collaboration with Lancaster University, funded through a joint scheme by the Education and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID). This £125,000, one-year pilot project allows us to study new ways of teaching literacy to deaf learners, alongside project partners including the Uganda National Association of the Deaf, Lancaster University Ghana, and the National Institute for Speech and Hearing. TESOL scholars from the School of Language and Global Studies here at UCLan are part of the team along with experts in applied sign linguistics, deaf studies, cross-cultural literacy research, and learning technology.

This study builds on work from two previous projects: Distance Education for Sign Language Users, part of the UK-India Education and Research Initiative; and Education Partnerships in Africa, funded by the British Council.

Deaf Literacy computer lab

The distance education project launched an English Learning Platform, an e-environment which caters to the needs of deaf students to acquire written English through sign language.

DEaf Literacy ELP

Through Education Partnerships in Africa, we focussed on joint capacity building for deaf students, HE partners and deaf organisations to develop literacy and academic skills, improve access to the workplace and the availability of sign language interpreters, and create new job profiles in applied sign language studies.

Deaf Literacy Africa

The Peer-to-Peer Deaf Literacy project aims to discover and explore new ways of teaching English to members of disadvantaged deaf communities in India, to improve the quality of educational outcomes for learner groups who may not derive adequate benefit from traditional interventions. Instead of traditional language teaching, this project takes a learner-driven, functional and ethnographic approach, exploiting a virtual/mobile learning platform and supporting deaf peer tutors to develop their own materials and strategies, including teaching through sign language. Learners will focus on functional aspects of English, which means using it to do everyday things such as sending texts. The project also involves small-scale investigative fieldwork in Ghana and Uganda, to examine transferability across cultures and pave the way for future collaborations. Led by deaf research assistants in the three countries, Peer-to-Peer Deaf Literacy will reveal new practices and interventions that policy makers can use to improve education, literacy and empowerment in deaf communities. Adaptation of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) for the expression of learning outcomes will allow achievements to be expressed in terms of an internationally understood tool.


June 2015 to June 2016

Project lead:

Professor Ulrike Zeshan

Further Information:

For further information about this project, please contact Prof Ulrike Zeshan:
International Institute for Sign Languages & Deaf Studies
Harrington Building HA212
+44 (0)1772 893104


Project Staff

Peer-to-Peer Deaf Literacy:

Julia Gillen, Lancaster University
Uta Papen, Lancaster University
Karin Tusting, Lancaster University
Phil Tubman, Lancaster University
Daniel Waller, UCLan
Jenny Webster, UCLan
Rita Fan Huhua, UCLan (PhD student)


Ahereza, N., Nyarko, M., Fan, H.R., Gillen, J. & Zeshan, U. (2016) SLEND Sign Language to English by the Deaf: literacy development with Deaf communities using sign language, peer tuition, and learner-generated online content. In U.I. Ogbonnaya & S. Simelane-Mnisi (Eds.), Proceedings of the South Africa International Conference on Educational Technologies : “Empowering the 21st century learner”, 24-26 April 2016, Manhattan Hotel, Pretoria (pp. 96–106). Pretoria, South Africa: African Academic Research Forum.

Denmark, C. (2013) ‘The Impact of an Interactive Learning Platform on the Learning of English as a Second Language by Young Deaf Indian Sign Language Users.’ MA by Research thesis submitted to the University of Central Lancashire.

Fan, H.R. (2016) Deaf young adults’ English literacy development in a peer-supported virtual learning environment. Paper presented at the 13th Conference of the European Society for the Study of English, Galway, Ireland, 22-26 August.

Gillen, J., Papen, U., Zeshan, U. & Panda, S. (2015) Literacy development with deaf communities in India: Designing a sustainable educational innovation. Paper presented at the 19th European Conference on Literacy, Klagenfurt, Austria, 13-16 July.

Gillen, J., Panda, S., Papen, U. & Zeshan, U. (2016) Peer to Peer Deaf Literacy: Working with young deaf people and peer tutors in India. Language and Language Teaching 5, 2(10): 1–7.

Gillen, J., Fan, H.R., Ahereza, N., Nyarko, M., Panda, S. & Zeshan. U. (2016) Exploring the place of the digital in deaf learners’ lives: Explorations from a project in India, Uganda and Ghana. Conference on Language, Literacy and Identity. Sheffield, July.

Parasara, M. & Viradiya, T. (2016) Deaf Adults’ English Literacy Development in an ISL-based Peer Education Context. 12th International Conference on South Asian Language and Linguistics (ICOSAL12), Panel on Indian Sign Language. Hyderabad, January.

Sahasrabudhe, S. (2010) Online elementary-level English literacy programme for young deaf adults using Indian Sign Language. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

Tusting, K. (2016) Developing language repertoires through a blended ethnographically-informed approach. British Association for Applied Linguistics (Special Interest Group on literacy teaching). Lancaster, June.

Zeshan, U. (2016) ‘Deaf literacy.’ Contribution to a Workshop on Co-construction of Research and Working with Stakeholders. Conference on Lessons from a Decade’s Research on Poverty: Innovation, Engagement and Impact. Pretoria, March.

Zeshan, U., Fan, H.R., Gillen, J., Panda, S., Papen, U, Tusting, K., Waller, D. & Webster, J. (2016) Summary Report on “Literacy development with deaf communities using sign language, peer tuition, and learner-generated online content: sustainable educational innovation”. Preston, University of Central Lancashire.

Collaborators and Partners

Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD)
Lancaster University Ghana
National Institute of Speech and Hearing

Lancaster University


  • The programme benefits deaf people who have inadequate interpreter provision or who lack the funding or skills necessary to access traditional education. Peer education by deaf signers, and course materials in sign language, will give these individuals full access to learning English, opening doors in terms of exploiting technology, further education, employment, and an enriched social life.
  • The economic and societal impact of this project is maximised through the involvement of deaf individuals in every aspect, from researcher to learner. Improving deaf people’s employability by providing such opportunities adds social and economic benefit to India, Ghana and Uganda. Partnership with the NISH and other deaf organisations is central to engagement with stakeholders, to verify that deaf people in the target countries have the opportunity to benefit from the project.
  • National policy will be influenced and on-going impact secured through assessment evidence, publications and programme evaluations which are used to demonstrate to policy makers the validity and effectiveness of the methodology in terms of achievement and learner reaction.