Peer-to-Peer Deaf Multiliteracies

This project investigates deaf learners’ use of ‘multiliteracies’, including reading, writing, sign language, technology and multimodal communication, to improve the education of deaf people in developing countries. It is a three-year £436,000 study called ‘Peer to Peer Deaf Multiliteracies: Research into a sustainable approach to the education of deaf children and young adults in the Global South’ (2017-2020).

Researchers at the iSLanDS Institute and Lancaster University (LU) are working with deaf children and young adults in India, Uganda, and Ghana, and two additional countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The project is funded by the Economic 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 involve 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. 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 (including children as well as adults), deaf researchers, deaf tutors, and deaf educators who implement the interventions.

This study builds on our work from a one-year £125,000 pilot project that examined innovative ways to teach literacy to deaf learners. It was entitled ‘Literacy development with deaf communities using sign language, peer tuition, and learner-generated online content: sustainable educational innovation’ (2015-2016).

The pilot project aimed to 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 do not adequately benefit from traditional interventions. Instead of traditional language teaching, this project took 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 focused on functional aspects of English, which means using it to do everyday things such as sending WhatsApp messages. The team also carried out 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 revealed new practices and interventions that policy makers can use to improve education, literacy and empowerment in deaf communities.

This research was also based on two previous iSLanDS 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. Through Education Partnerships Africa, we focused 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.



Project lead:

Professor Ulrike Zeshan

Further Information:

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

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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.

Deaf Multiliteracies - From Literacy to Multiliteracies

Deaf Multiliteracies: Outcomes from our first ‘collaboratory’ workshop in India (Live reports from the International Institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies (iSLanDS).

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.

P2P Deaf Multiliteracies Project (Facebook)

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.

Peer to Peer Deaf Multiliteracies: research into a sustainable approach to education of Deaf children and young adults in the Global South (UK Research and Innovation)

Peer to Peer Deaf Multiliteracies: research into a sustainable approach to education of Deaf children and young adults in the Global South (Lancaster University)

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.

Transforming deaf learners’ multiliteracies into sustainable educational approaches: Our new international project is launched (Live reports from the International Institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies (iSLanDS).

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.

Zeshan, U.,  Bhattacharya, T., Gillen, J., Mathew, S., Papen, U., Panda, S., Randhawa, S., Tusting, K., & Waller, D. (2017) Policy Report on “Peer to Peer Deaf Literacy” (P2PDL). Preston, University of Central Lancashire.

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)
Phil Howarth, UCLan
Eilidh Rose McEwan, UCLan (PhD student)
Sibaji Panda, Rural Lifeline Trust, India
George Akanlig-Pare, University of Ghana
Anthony Mugeere, Makerere University, Uganda
Christian Jones, University of Liverpool


Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD)
Lancaster University Ghana
National Institute of Speech and Hearing
Lancaster University
Delhi Foundation of Deaf Women (DFDW)
Rural Lifeline Trust (RLT), India
Literacy Research Centre, Lancaster University
University of Ghana
Makerere University, Uganda
Dr Shakuntala Misra National Rehabilitation University (DSMNRU), India


  • Peer education by deaf signers, and course materials in sign language, has improved their access to learning English, opening doors to technology, further education, employment, and an enriched social life. The programme has benefited deaf people who have inadequate interpreter provision or who lack the funding or skills necessary to access traditional education.
  • The economic and societal impact of this study has been maximised through the involvement of deaf individuals in every aspect, from researcher to learner, including research assistants (RAs), peer tutors (PTs), and learners, as well as members of the project team. Improving deaf people’s employability by providing such opportunities has added social and economic benefit to India, Ghana and Uganda. Partnership with NISH and other deaf organisations has been central to engagement with stakeholders, and helped us ensure that deaf people in the target countries who want to improve their English literacy skills were able to be involved.
  • Through meetings with the Indian Advisory Committee, we determine our priorities and recommend policy-related engagement, in-service training for teachers to raise awareness about our approach, training for more peer tutors, and work with children in schools.


  • To make our approach more accessible to stakeholders, we produced a 45-minute documentary film about our project together with Indian deaf filmmakers, and screened it at the final dissemination conference in India. A short 10-minute feature film by deaf actors and directors entitled ‘Hello literacy!’ was also produced. In addition to numerous blog posts, the project also generated a dedicated website with content in sign languages and English.
  • Our data and analysis are deaf-led, using the capacities and agency of deaf people, including learners, researchers, research assistants, peer tutors, and partners. We focus on deaf people’s right to use their first language (L1), sign language; collaborations/partnerships between universities/experts/communities/organisations in the Global South and North; and empowering project members in the Global South.
  • Training and capacity building, especially by the deaf project staff, takes place in dedicated training periods. Some have received international fellowships and university scholarships.
  • Findings are taken forward into further research and active capacity building. Our innovative literacy provision model is being extended to other countries, including to China through a British Council-funded university exchange.