Meeting the needs of disabled students through OER and OEP: insights from the OERH dataset

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April 20, 2016 by Leigh-Anne Perryman

The Open Education Research Hub (OERH) dataset is freely available for all to use. It can support analysis of a myriad of hypotheses, beyond those already investigated by the Open Educational Resources Research Hub (now the OERH) – the originators of the data, and pioneers in open research.

This year, OERH researcher Bea de los Arcos and I have been analysing the OERH dataset from the perspective of disabled students’ use of open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP). We presented very early findings from our study at the OER16 conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, this week.

Here’s the abstract for our session.

In 2006 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (United Nations, 2006). The Convention addresses both the risks of exclusion for disabled people that might arise from increasing use of ICTs, and the potential for ICT to help increase social, political and economic inclusion. However, digital accessibility for disabled people is slow in being realised globally and despite the unprecedented growth in mobile and Internet use worldwide, ‘very few nations today have acted to ensure that persons with disabilities are part of this technology revolution’ (ITU/G3ict, 2014, p. iii). Open educational resources (OER) and practices (OEP) are important to this technology revolution, but only a few researchers have studied the freedoms that OER and OEP might offer people with disabilities. Seeking to address this research gap we analysed the open dataset produced by the Open Education Research Hub (for whom we are both researchers), focusing on the priorities and practices of OER-users with disabilities. The dataset ( is released on a CC-BY license and features survey responses from 7,700 educators, formal and informal learners from 175 countries, anonymised through the removal of all personal information and qualitative data.

Within the study sample (N=6966), 11.3% (n=787) declare a disability. 45.6% are informal learners, 34.6% formal learners and 17.5% educators (a similar distribution to non-disabled respondents). Disabled respondents are, on the whole, older, less qualified and less likely to be in full-time employment than non-disabled respondents. While much of the (minimal) literature on OER accessibility covers physical disability, mental health problems emerge as the most common disability amongst OERH survey respondents. We found no significant differences in disabled and non-disabled survey respondents’ open educational practices, with nearly 80% of each category having adapted OER but few having created resources and published them on an open license. Interestingly though, when asked about the challenges encountered in using OER, more disabled than non-disabled survey respondents indicated that (a) technology problems are an obstacle when downloading resources, and (b) lack of skill is an obstacle to editing resources. This fits with a broader picture of digital exclusion for disabled people. Disabled and non-disabled educators and learners broadly agree about the impact of OER on students’ learning. However, fewer disabled than non-disabled formal learners report that OER use results in their increased participation in class discussions and only 26% of disabled formal learners suggest using OER has resulted in their grades improving (compared with 40.2% of non-disabled formal learners).

Our study shows that among the OERH survey respondents there is some difference between disabled and non-disabled learners’ and educators’ use of OER and attitudes towards openness. However, further research is needed to fully understand the use of OER and OEP by people with different types of disability, and whether disabled learners and educators are more or less likely to use OER than their non-disabled peers.


ITU/G3ict (2014) Model ICT Accessibility Policy Report. Available from [Accessed 20 November 2015]

United Nations (2006), Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Available from [Accessed 23 November 2015]


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Blogging on open educational resources (OER), open educational practices (OEP), educational research methods and online practices in the developing world, and in the voluntary sector.

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