Empowering people to become inclusive in their thinking, behaviour and actions

A photograph of a team of students and professionals in a design studio. There are 6 people in the photograph, one of them is seated and the others are standing. On the table are some cardboard prototypes and a laptop.

Hackathon team members Wei, Pavan and Sree (centre) sharing with Michael (seated) and Ellie and George (left) some tactile design prototypes they developed for the inclusive wayfinding brief.

This week our Breaking down Barriers team hosted our first ‘Inclusive Way’ hackathon. Our design teams included participants with personal experience of different conditions and disabilities working with students from a range of disciplines (including Architecture, Biomedical Engineering, Construction Management, Graphic Communication and Modern Languages, Real Estate and Planning). Our teams also had input from industry professionals and our BdB team. We’re delighted to share this guest post from Ellie Baker and George Sidaoui (Applied Wayfinding) with our blog readers.

By Ellie Baker and George Sidaoui, Applied Wayfinding

As creative practitioners working on inclusivity and accessibility projects in the field of wayfinding – we were delighted to have been part of the February 2020 Inclusive Way Hackathon. The hackathon not only tackled the theme of ”inclusivity” as part of its brief. It was in itself inclusive in how it brought together tutors, students, project partners and practitioners from a range of backgrounds and disciplines around one theme, which undeniably unites us all. 

“Inclusivity” is often treated as an add-on. We educate, design, build and introduce policies – and then toward the end of every journey, pause to evaluate that we have been inclusive in our outcome. Sometimes we do not even question having been inclusive or not. Is such approach in itself inclusive? We would say, no. “Inclusivity” needs to be engrained in processes related to education, creative practice and policy-making from the outset. Efforts such as the Inclusive Way Hackathon allow for “inclusivity” to become part of the discussion, the discourse and the norm.

Having collaborated on inclusivity projects with a number of academic and non-academic institutions over the years, we have observed that not enough is being done to empower people to become inclusive in their thinking, behaviour and actions. The Inclusive Way Hackathon proved to be a much-needed empowerment tool that we endorse and hope to see grow in the future. Reading University can continue to help make our world a better place by facilitating a discussion around “inclusivity” such that every individual, in their own way, could be inclusive in their approach to daily life.

The Challenges of Employability for Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) at the School of Construction Management & Engineering

Current data published on the Unistats website ( www.unistats.direct.gov.uk ) indicates that 95% of graduates from the School of Construction Management & Engineering (SCME) at the University of Reading (UoR) are in employment or full time study 6 months after graduation. This is broadly in line with a report undertaken by current BdB member Adrian Tagg and BdB co-founder Dr Geoff Cook which examined the employability outcomes of students with disability and Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) between 2013 and 2017.

The undergraduate courses provided by SCME are highly vocational with students specialising in Building Surveying, Construction Management and Quantity Surveying. These lead students into professional positions within the Construction and Real Estate sectors. The nature of graduate-level work undertaken in Professional Practice involves construction sites and real estate assets. This is highly restrictive to persons with physical disabilities and has probably restricted their registration onto courses. However there are significant numbers of students on SCME courses that have recognised cognitive disabilities, which the University Disability Advisory Service (DAS) identifies as ‘specific learning difficulties (SpLD)’ such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or Asperger’s.

In summary the report audited 500 graduates from the SCME identifying the following key findings:

  • The combined cohort numbers are 500 and of this 57 (11.4%) are registered as ‘disabled’ with the University Disability Advisory Service.
  • Academically there is little difference (1.36%) between the overall average cohort marks of students with and without disability, however those with disability achieved less first class degrees and only 2 students with disability went on to further study compared with 25 students without disability
  • Concerning employability the SCME has overall high employability with an average or 96.15% of graduates in employment or further study within 6 months of graduating. Concerning students with disability 97.36% are employed or undertaking further study. This illustrates that students with disability do not appear disadvantaged with securing graduate employment.
  • Employers largely use online application processes and various computer aided sift mechanisms. Historically it is believed the degree classification and BTEC / A-Level grades were important but increasingly these are changing as employers seek more inclusive and less discriminatory methods to select the best candidates. A CV still has considerable importance in the application process and is actively used to shortlist candidates. Employers appear to be embracing inclusion and diversity with evidence of senior staff with specific learning difficulties proving there are no barriers to promotion or career development for employees with disability.
  • 50% of graduates made up to 5 job applications and 44% up to 10 with one survey responder making more than 10 applications. On average for the 2017 cohort there were 1.8 job offers per graduate and there is no evidence to suggest multiple job applications lead to multiple job offers. All of the graduates had to undertake online applications with all having also to submit a CV and / or covering letter. Degree classification or graduates with A-Levels V BTEC had little noticeable effect on job offers. Students with placement experience received nearly 3 times as many jobs offers as those who did not undertake a placement. Despite good employability statistics and 94% overall satisfaction with the SCME support for employability, feedback has suggested that more SCME employability support is required. CV and letter writing as well as interview technique were the areas identified by graduates where improved support is necessary. In particular 75% of graduates with disability indicated this as an area where more support is needed.
  • Importantly there are significant limitations with the findings concerning data received from student surveys or questionnaires. In all cases overall student response rates to destination surveys (both DLHE and SCME) were below 60% and the response rate for the 2017 employability exit survey was less than 20%. The overall response rates are poor and have the potential to distort the findings on the assumption that students who are most engaged are likely to get jobs and engaged students with jobs are likely to respond to the survey(s).


In conclusion; having a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) at the SCME is not a barrier to academic success and importantly there is no evidence to suggest SpLD graduates are disadvantaged in the work place upon graduating from the UoR.

Please contact Adrian Tagg ( a.tagg@reading.ac.uk ) if you would like further information or a copy of the report.

Welcoming Ugo to our BdB team

We’re delighted to welcome Ugo Marsili to the BdB team. Ugo brings his experience of working with Blind and Deaf communities, as well as his expertise in languages, to our team.

Portrait of a smiling, dark-haired man in a dark blue shirt

Ugo Marsili

My name is Ugo Marsili, I am a Teaching Fellow (Italian and Spanish) and a module convener for Spanish stage 1 and BSL stage 1 and 2. I have been teaching foreign language courses (Italian and Spanish) on the undergraduate programme of the Institution-Wide Language Programme (IWLP) and in the DMLES as sessional lecturer. I will be Fellow of the HEA this September (pending formaI ratification) and I am a member of the LGBT + Scheme.

I hold a MA in Linguistic and Literary Studies (Polish, South American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese) and a PgDip in audio visual Translation for the Cinema and Performing Arts (subtitling for the Deaf and HoH and Audio Description for the Blind) from the University of Poznań. I hold an MSc in Teaching Italian Language to Adults and a Teacher Training Diploma from DILIT International House. I have been teaching MFL in Poland, Italy, Argentina and UK.

I am a School Champion for Diversity and Inclusion and a member of the steering group. I am very committed to Diversity and Inclusion and work with both the Blind and Deaf communities. I run Deaf Awareness and Blind Awareness session for staff with the CQSD Programme and I collaborate within my School and with other departments to reflect and develop materials for inclusive teaching. The project I am working at the moment is related to the use of Audio Description applied to language teaching.

As a teacher, my main area of interest is in developing students’ speaking skills in a foreign language and the role of the affective filter and its influence in students’ fluency in language learning. In particular my interest is in analysing the strong connection between emotions, memory and language retention of vocabulary and grammar structures in students with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. I try to encourage them to work on their speaking skills inside and outside the classroom. In the past two years, I have been working on a Tandem project between IWLP and Native speaker students (Italian and Spanish) to boost speaking skills and cultural awareness and to enhance the language learning experience.

As an AVT trainer I cooperate with public and private foundations in Poland and UK. Our aim is to enhance employability skills for people living in countries such as Poland, Belarus, Iceland and Georgia and ensure a barrier-free access to culture.  In the next years I am committed to develop and expand the BSL Programme which I am proud is taught here at the University of Reading.

I believe in a non-denominational education based on solidarity and acceptance of the “other”. I encourage students to develop their interpersonal skills in the language they learn as well as feel part of a cultural and linguistic community.

At the University of Reading, our students come from all around the world and this makes their learning experience even more interesting. I like to build a relationship with them and watching them grow as independent learners and motivate them to keep learning other languages.

On a personal note, I studied Oboe at the Conservatory in Rome, Italy. I am into music as I am into learning new languages. I have a background in linguistic and philology in Romance and Slavonic languages and I am always up to learn a new one. I enjoy travelling, sports and cooking.

Welcoming Carolina to our BdB team

We’re delighted to welcome Carolina Vasilikou to our multidisciplinary BdB team!

Portrait-style photograph of a smiling woman with brown eyes, light brown hair wearing a scarf and a blue top

Carolina Vasilikou

Carolina is an architect, researcher and educator, currently working as a lecturer in Architecture at the University of Reading. She holds a MSc in Façade Engineering from the University of Bath and a PhD in Architecture from the University of Kent, were she taught prior to joining Reading. Carolina is also a core member of ‘Urban Transcripts’, a non-profit organisation bringing together research, community participation and urban design, currently developing their Urban Play platform.

Carolina has led projects on sensory research and well-being in urban spaces, including a Digital Humanities project on sensory mapping and an AHRC-funded community engagement project on sensory navigation in heritage cities. She is active in people-centred design and evidence-based research, has given lectures at the Architectural Association, ENSA Paris-Malaquais, Glasgow School of Arts and is member of the ‘International Association of Urban Climate’ (Thermal Comfort working Group) and the CIBSE ‘Intelligent Buildings’ Working Group. As a core member of the Urban Living Group in Reading, she explores embodied multisensory perception in relation to space and movement in complex urban environments, with a performative turn through hybrid practices, community mapping & designing-by-making practices.

Carolina is interested in projects about well-being and public participation through innovative practices, exploring sensory heritage and socio-cultural values of architecture and facets of urban activism and community-led practices. She coordinates and facilitates international workshops on public space (Athens: Transforming the [re]public, 2017), somatics design for able spaces (We are All Able Bodies active workshop, Madrid 2018) and student projects on designing-by-making (per[FORM], 2018; Urban Room Built Structure,  Reading 2019). Member of the International Ambiances Network, Carolina researches movement in its architectural expression to re-define inclusive spaces. She performs as an improviser (CPT, 2018–2019).

Exploring inclusive design in digital publishing

This spring term, our Graphic Communication finalists collaborated with Oxford University Press (OUP) on a digital brief for their Oxford Reading Buddies platform. Students taking our new Advanced Typography optional module were asked to redesign OUP’s Invasive Species title for young readers. OUP’s brief emphasised accessibility requirements and our students were able to really engage with a range of inclusive design considerations.

The contents section of Laura's ebook. Illustrated leaves are encroaching on the title 'Invasive Species' to give a sense of the theme of the book. At the bottom of the screen is a menu with thumbnails of the different sections of the book to help readers choose what they would like to read.

An extract from Laura Marshall’s response to the brief Oxford University Press gave our students to redesign their Invasive Species print title as an interactive ebook. 

Students were expected to develop visual solutions that would meet web accessibility guidelines (especially in terms of legibility and colour combinations) and come up with a typographic system that would correspond with OUP’s font progression guidelines. In addition to working towards compliance with accessibility requirements, students also considered ways in which their designs could really engaging with supporting different learning styles and other user needs.

Part 3 student, Laura Marshall says:

“This project allowed me to explore the challenges of the evolving publishing industry, and apply this in the ideation and design of an interactive eBook, in a way that actively supported my approach. As someone who feels more comfortable designing printed documents, entering the world of digital has allowed me to explore new ways to engage with readers and support design for reading. These included supporting a range of different learning styles to make the learning experience more accessible, as well as gamification experiences such as quizzes which test the reader’s retention. Working closely with Oxford University Press has cemented my passion for the world of publishing, in particular, children’s book design, and I feel that this project has provided me with a relevant and unique portfolio piece.”

OUP’s Head of Design, Primary Product and Schools Marketing, Michelle Campbell and Head of UX/UI Design, Seb Burgess joined us for the project briefing and the very impressive student presentations at the end of the project. Students on this module also enjoyed a mid-project field trip to OUP, which gave them an opportunity for one-to-one feedback from the OUP team and insight into what a career in a publishing life might entail.

Michelle said: “It was a pleasure to work with such talented young people… It was great to see that everyone now has something they can be proud of in their portfolios.”

Seb added: “We were completely bowled over by the standard of the presentations. Really sense that the class have embraced the multi-faceted design thinking that goes into digital service design.”

Working on a digital brief for young readers gave our students an opportunity to apply what they learnt in their inclusive design workshops last year. It was incredibly valuable for them to realise that accessibility is a key consideration for publishers like OUP. The brief enabled students to bring together their typographic, visualisation and interactive skills in a way that really embraced the user-centred design for reading thinking that underpins our programmes.

The Department of Typography & Graphic Communication has run an undergraduate project with OUP every year for the past six years and we were delighted to be able to extend this to a second, digital project this year. This collaboration is beneficial for both the Department and OUP and it’s fantastic to see it evolving in new directions.

Jason Green Joins The BdB Team

Staff Disability Network Chair Jason Green has for some time been assisting BdB core member Adrian Tagg with his elective Part 3 Module Inclusive Environments (CE3CIE), Jason is a wheelchair user and has worked at the UoR for a number of years.

This academic year he has co-delivered a lecture on Transport as well as assisting with practical sessions where abled bodied students use wheelchairs to access the UoR campus in order to help them understand the  physical restrictions of the existing built environment. His guidance and advice has been paramount in adding value to student’s learning in the audit and design of buildings to maximise inclusivity.

Jason is a published author and he represents staff with disability at the UoR on a wide variety of personal, professional and practical issues. We’re delighted to officially welcome him to the BdB team and look forward to his future positive contributions.

Typography student and Reading Braillists collaborate on user-centred inclusive design research

On Saturday the 8thof December, Laura Marshall, one of our Part 3 BA Graphic Communication students, presented her dissertation research at the Reading Braillists meeting. Laura is exploring the role of Braille in today’s society and here she shares her experience of engaging with the Braillist community.

Hi, I’m Laura, a part 3 student studying BA Graphic Communication. With final year of University comes the writing of a dissertation, and for mine I have chosen the topic“An analysis of Braille’s role in today’s multimodal society, and how technological alternatives are potentially influencing its use.” A large part of my research includes talking to people who use Braille and assistive technology for reading. In the hunt to find participants to take part in an online survey and in face-to-face interviews, I began to engage with the Braillist’s forum. I was invited to their December meeting to present my research and meet some of the Braillists that I had been talking to informally over email.

The meeting commenced with my presentation. I talked about my background in Graphic Design, explaining that I was interested in reading strategies and designing documents in a way to ensure they are inclusive as possible. As a designer, the majority of the work I produce is focused on eliciting a visual response in the user / reader, so it was interesting to talk to people with a range of visual impairments, with most of the people there having no sight at all.

I then presented an overview of the research I had done so far for my dissertation. I’ve learnt about different grades of Braille, and how the alphabet has been constructed, as well as history of Braille and how it evolved from Charles Barbier’s Sonography. I have also looked at how Braille has been standardised since its initial invention, and how some of these changes, such as the adaptation of Unified English Braille (UEB) a few years ago have been controversial amongst the Braillists community. However, at the meeting, I learnt that UEB has allowed users to write smiley faces, so I guess it’s not all bad news! 🙂

I also talked about how I am gathering information from people who use Braille and other assistive technologies to explore the preferences and reading behaviours of people who use these reading technologies on an everyday basis. A large part of my research is focused on reading strategies and technology use in different contexts of reading. I’ve researched new assistive technologies which have helped aid Braille’s use such as refreshable Braille displays, as well as others that have made learning Braille optional, such as audio books and screen readers. From the meeting, I have been able to find enough participants to interview face-to-face, which is really good news in terms of writing the next chapter in my dissertation and being able to represent the views and experiences of real people in my research.

After my talk, there was the chance to look at two new Braille technologies. One of which was the Orbit 20 reader, demonstrated by Jen Bottom, the organiser of the event, which released in October of this year. It is a refreshable Braille display, and works by connecting to a phone or other device over Bluetooth. The display then presents the text by updating the Braille cells.

Photograph of the Orbit 20 reader in use on a table in the Reading Braillist's meetingThe Orbit 20 reader in use.

Before the release of the Orbit 20 reader, refreshable Braille displays were expensive, retailing from £1,500 up to £10,000. This meant that this technology was not accessible for the majority of people who would want to use one. The Orbit 20 reader, retailing at £450, allows for many more people in the Braille community to have access to this technology, allowing for resources to be accessed and shared more widely.

As well as this, a prototype of the Canute 360 was demonstratedby Stephanie Sergeant from Vision Through Sound. This will be the world’s first multi-line digital e-reader. It was interesting to see the differences between these two pieces of technology with the same purpose, as the Canute was around 6 times the size of the Orbit 20 reader.

A zoomed in photograph of the Braille cells on the Canute 360 reader

The Canute 360 reader

One of the Braillists at the meeting, Matthew Horspool, had been kind enough to bring some Braille material for me to look at. This included railway maps, a user guide on how to use Windows 7, alongside other examples of Braille which had been produced in different ways. He explained that the method used to create the Windows 7 book was vacuum forming. The layout had to be created from a heat resistant raised surface such as wood, before being placed in a vacuum former. A vacuum then forces heated plastic around the form. This is one of the older methods of producing raised surfaces, but worked well when showing the whole desktop, allowing for the user to visualise what was on screen.

A photograph of a page from a guide to using Windows 7, showing the navigation screen of a computer A photograph of a page from a guide to using Windows 7, showing the navigation screen of a computer

A photograph of a Braille map of the UK, being touched by a hand A close up photograph of a Braille UK railway map

He also showed me the iPhone’s use of a Braille keyboard, and how apps could help a person with visual impairments navigate around the device.

Photograph of the Braille keyboard in use on the iPhoneThe iPhone’s Braille keyboard

The meeting was incredibly inspiring, as well as helping me understand why Braille is so important to many people. Despite my initial nerves, the presentation went well and turned into a discussion. This discussion, as well as the live technology demonstrations gave me some really interesting background knowledge which will aid in writing the rest of my dissertation. I look forward to meeting some of these people again in the New Year when I carry out my face-to-face interviews.

Note: Laura’s research is supervised by Dr Jeanne-Louise Moys.

Introducing our new team members: Welcome Emma Street


Our BdB core team has been joined by a number of new colleagues in the last few months and this is the first of a series of posts introducing some of our new team members.

This is a portrait photograph of Emma. SHe has brown hair, funky glasses and is wearing an vibrant orange top and scarf.

Emma Street has joined our BdB core team.

Dr Emma Street joined the BdB group in 2017. She is Associate Professor of Planning and Urban Governance in the Department of Real Estate and Planning. An urban geographer by background, Emma’s research cuts across the urban planning, urban design and architecture disciplines.

She is interested in the values, assumptions, decisions and processes that shape the way that urban environments look, function and are governed. Emma has a particular interest in exploring this via what might be seen as the mundane, instrumental or procedural; be that building codes and regulations, urban policies or elements of the planning system. For example, her work as part of the EPSRC-funded cycleBOOM project explored how regulation and policies have shaped the landscape of cycling in the UK, and what measures might engage more older adults in cycling.

Concerns about equality and social justice inform Emma’s research and approach to Teaching and Learning. She sits on Henley Business School’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and is working on research linked work-life balance in academia, partly prompted by her experiences as a new parent.

Welcome Emma!

BdB initiatives incorporated into two more programmes at Reading

Yesterday, students from four of our distinct MA programmes (Typeface Design, Book Design, Creative Enterprise and Information Design) participated in our inclusive design workshops.This is the first time that MA Typeface Design and MA Book Design students have participated in some of our Breaking down Barriers initiatives. Inclusive design activities, with a particular focus on inclusive wayfinding, was introduced into the MA Information Design and MA Creative Enterprise programmes in 2016–7.

Guest speaker, Fiona Corby talked to students about inclusive design for people who have visual impairments. Fiona highlighted how design decisions for new platforms (particularly touchscreens), professional software, websites and mobile phones can make user experiences very frustrating. She drew on her personal experience of braille, ClearVision books and using screenreading technologies like Jaws to engage students with concrete considerations for  inclusive design and reading. She also shared key points to consider for making data visualisation, tables and images more accessible to people with visual impairments.

After asking Fiona lots of questions, the students explored other aspects of inclusive design by evaluating different printed and screen design while using a range of glasses simulating different kinds of visual impairments and simulation gloves. Students noted how these activities helped them realise how many “everyday” actions and experiences are affected by conditions affecting our visual acuity or dexterity.