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DEMOS Project

Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness
[Project] : Newsletter

Newsletter February 2001


  1. Welcome from the Project Directors
  2. Project Staff
  3. Why Online learning?
  4. Evaluation
  5. Steering Group welcomes External Reps
  6. Website
  7. Support and Training currently available in the 4 Universities

Welcome from the Project Directors

Sheila Aynsley-Smith

Sheila Aynsley Smith

Ann Barlow

Ann Barlow

Welcome to the first newsletter of the DEMOS Project. This is a project that has been funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England under the current special initiative for 'Improving Provision for Students with Disabilities' 2000-2002.

Strand three projects under this scheme focus on collaboration and one of our primary themes is building on the strong partnerships that already exist in the Manchester area between the four local higher education institutions. The four universities previously collaborated in the last HEFCE special initiative for disabled students to set up the Access Summit Centre based in St Peter's House on Oxford Road and the disability offices of each university still use this as a primary resource in the support of students.

Our main aim is to develop an online resource of staff development materials relating to disability. The project brings together staff from various backgrounds in the four Universities - disability and learning support, teaching and learning and staff and educational development. By engaging such departments we hope to be able to embed the outcomes of the project in the mainstream activities of the universities.


Project Staff

Mike Wray is the Project Coordinator. He came to us from the University of the West of England where he was the Disability Adviser. He was also a member of the Project Management Group for the WEBB Accessibility Project that was funded under the HEFCE 1997-99 special initiatives.

Iris Manhold is the Web Development Officer for the project. In June 2000 Iris graduated with a first class honours degree in Information Management from Manchester Metropolitan University. She previously worked for Toucan Europe Ltd on EU social exclusion projects where she developed her interest and skills in producing websites that are accessible to disabled users.


Why Online Learning?

Many universities in the UK are now engaged in programmes of development that will see modules and courses of study available for students to study online.

Although there is a great deal of debate currently about the efficacy of online learning, many people agree that more cost effective methods of educational delivery need to be investigated if the UK is to maintain a high standard of provision and to compete on an increasingly global market.

The four disability offices of the universities in Manchester, in conjunction with staff from the Access Summit Centre, have run disability-related training events in previous years and an effort has been made to continue to run this programme through the Staff and Educational Development units in the current academic year. Whilst many of the events have proved popular some have been cancelled due to lack of attendance. Events have also had to be tailored to provide the best opportunity for the most people to attend (i.e. lunchtime sessions of no more than two hours). It is hoped that through an investigation of the development of an online resource, some of the problems of more traditional methods can be circumvented.

Support of disabled students is also becoming a key issue for universities, with the introduction of legislation such as the extension of the Disability Discrimination Act to cover higher education and the Quality Assurance Agency's Code of Practice for Students with Disabilities. The increase in the numbers of disabled students admitted to courses has also placed an extra burden on all staff, including the disability offices, to coordinate support and policy changes to assist this group of students. It is therefore important that information relating to disability issues is thoroughly disseminated.



Fundamental to the development of any training activity should be an initial stage when potential participants and stakeholders are consulted in order to understand the nature of the problem that exists. The project is therefore carrying out a number of activities in order to describe the current context of this area of training need. The objectives of any course material can then be determined and validated and the outcomes of the project widely evaluated. These activities include:-

The questionnaire will also be used to ascertain a wider picture of the training needs of academic staff in the UK, through the membership of the Institute for Learning and Teaching.

An external evaluator will examine wider dissemination and embedding of the project outcomes.


Steering Group Welcomes External Reps.

The DEMOS team is pleased to welcome Dr David Moorhead of the University of Bristol and Dr Debbie Sapsed, from the University of Wales, Bangor to the project Steering Group.

David is the director of Student Support Services in the Access Unit for Deaf and Disabled Students at the University of Bristol, which co-ordinates the University's support of disabled students. It includes a unit that is renowned for the support of deaf students. He was recently involved in the WEBB Accessibility Project as a member of the Project Management Group and is currently part of a European collaboration with partners in Valencia in Spain and Magdeburg in Germany. The partnership has just obtained funding from the Leonardo da Vinci programme for a pilot project, part of which will look at online access for deaf students to learning and teaching.

Debbie is the manager of both the Access Centre and Educational Technology Services (supporting staff in developing and using a whole range of educational technologies) at the University of Wales, Bangor. She has most recently been co-ordinating an internal project aimed at raising awareness of usability and accessibility issues in Web page design.

We recently said goodbye to Cindy Findlay-Williams of Wolverhampton University and we would like to send our thanks to her for the work that she put into the early part of the project.



Although the project is physically located in the All Saints building of the Manchester Metropolitan University we are very keen to establish a strong virtual presence at our website. The website has been online since June and will grow steadily as the project progresses and learning and information material is developed.

Apart from containing the latest updates and reports about the project, the DEMOS website will be developed into a launching pad and support point for the upcoming online staff development courses. It will contain additional material to complement the course. A resource section of useful documents and links will encourage further study, provide related information and point users in the direction of resources to pursue individual interests and needs that can not be met within the online course.

The website is being developed with accessibility in mind to be as inclusive as possible - which means that it should be accessible to users of enabling technologies like screen readers or alternative input devices and also to users accessing the Internet over slow connections or without the latest technologies. Feedback and suggestions regarding design and usability are appreciated, especially from such users.

WebCT, a widely-used e-learning and course management system, is currently used for the presentation of the course material but due to accessibility problems of this learning environment, alternatives are under consideration.

Support and Training currently available in the 4 universities

If you would like to know more about training courses relating to disability or about support available for disabled students within the Manchester Universities please refer to the information on the contact page.