The experiences and needs of disabled students studying English

Diversity & Inclusion

Project status

Project completed November 2009.

Brief description

This study used an online survey to gather detailed information from disabled students of English and Creative Writing about their academic experiences and the pedagogical, social, structural and technological factors that had helped and hindered them.  It examined these from a discipline-based rather than an institutional perspective: the focus being on how their learning might be facilitated either through pedagogical changes or use of technology.

The initial gathering of information took place via a questionnaire placed online and circulated via e-mail to English Departments and Disability Services.  The results of the survey were used to identify core issues for more in depth exploration.  Willing participants from the initial survey were asked to participate in follow up questioning.

Kevin Brunton analysed the results of the survey in the final report, to which Jonathan Gibson added material on strategies for inclusive teaching.

Work on the project ran in parallel with work on a related project, also funded by the HEAT scheme, on the use of ‘Inspiration’ software with dyslexic students of English.


The Subject Centre survey was the first nationwide survey of disabled students of English at degree level. Although English Studies has a proud tradition of valuing the experiences of marginalised groups, disability has not been central either to its research or to its teaching, and students with some types of disability (dyslexia, in particular) have found the subject particularly challenging.


The project report, Staying the Course: The Experiences of Disabled Students of English and Creative Writing, by Kevin Brunton and Jonathan Gibson, is available both on the Subject Centre website and in hard copy. A thorough analysis of the results of the survey is complemented both by extensive quotes in the student respondents’ own words and by detailed advice on inclusive teaching. The report consists of the following sections:

  1. Contexts: models of disability, the legislative framework and inclusive teaching
  2. The survey
  3. The overall impact of disability
  4. Independent study
  5. Seminars, lectures and tutorials
  6. Virtual learning environments (VLEs)
  7. Exams
  8. Course management
  9. Staff attitudes and behaviour
  10. Advice for future students
  11. Best experiences
  12. A checklist for departments

Appendices include a list of useful websites, and a collection of short descriptions of specific conditions, as well as a bibliography.

The original survey questionnaire can be downloaded as a word file or rtf file.


Jonathan Gibson, ‘Inclusive English?’, Wordplay 1 (April 2009).

Project leader

  • Kevin Brunton – Senior Lecturer, Needs Assessor, Dyslexia IT Tutor

Project partner/s

  • Jonathan Gibson – English Subject Centre
  • TechDis
  • Part of the funding for the project was provided by TechDis’s HEAT scheme.