Communication and non speaking children with physical disabilities: The issue of recognition

Lecture by Dr Seray Ibrahim, UCL Institute of Education

When: 10 December 2020 12:30-14:00 GMT

Online lecture via Zoom

Registration via the Eventbrite link below

Interactions involving non speaking children with physical disabilities and their conversation partners offer a rich use case for illustrating key features of multimodal communication: exemplifying how agents work together to co-construct meaning, and that all parties draw on a range of material resources within context. However the social conditions in which non speaking children with physical disabilities interact can be particularly challenging. For instance, often there is a limited availability of material resources and frequently, less attention is paid to semiotic resources that are not treated as communicative. Added to this, the vocabulary that has typically been used to describe modes has been coined from other disciplines, which raises tensions in how far we are able to reject loaded terms or displace the centrality of speech and words.

In this talk Dr Ibrahim will map out the landscape of how communication has traditionally been studied in interactions that involve non-speaking children with physical disabilities and their social groups. Drawing on data from her PhD research, she suggests potentials by introducing a new perspective for studying multimodal communication. Inspired by social semiotic multimodal theory,  Dr Ibrahim discusses the need for a paradigm shift that explicitly deals with the issue of recognition in two ways. First, by acknowledging semiotic resources that are typically not treated as communicative, and second, by rethinking how we study communication that has largely been treated as organised around talk. The talk ends with recommendations for how we might design for recognition, particularly in the context of designing digital technologies that are intended to support communication.


Dr Seray Ibrahim is a post doctoral researcher based at the UCL Knowledge Lab. Her interdisciplinary research interests span human computer interaction (HCI), augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and multimodality. She is also a qualified speech & language therapist and prior to her doctoral studies, worked within the NHS supporting children who have neurodevelopmental disabilities in schools and community settings. Her PhD research investigated communication in children who have severe speech and physical impairments. Through a series of empirical studies, the focus was on investigating the salient features of communication so that these insights might motivate design by expanding possibilities for what roles technologies might take in children’s lives. In doing so, the goal was to talk back to designers by bridging the fields of AAC, HCI and multimodality. She is currently working as a research fellow on the EU Horizon 2020 project: the iRead project, and soon to start an ESRC postdoctoral fellowship that builds on her PhD research.

research blog: | twitter: @serayibrahim


Online Zoom session. The link to the session is available upon registration at