Artificial intelligence for Disability Disclosure Across Post-secondary Teaching


Exploring how virtual assistants could enhance disability support across the education sector.


There are extensive possibilities for virtual assistants to improve student support, particularly for students that have disabilities and additional needs. These require a new type of AI-powered assistant to engage students in dialogue, gather information about their needs, build a profile of adjustments and requirements, and provide personalised suggestions and guidance. Educational institutions currently rely entirely on expert staff to provide advice, but these tend to be overstretched, particularly during registration and induction periods, which are where students need most support. This, combined with arduous form-filling processes and sub-optimal systems, can make the process of disclosing a disability and starting at university unpleasant for the student. Our previous research has shown how this impacts on student wellbeing and success (Coughlan & Lister, 2018).

In the ADMINS project, we have explored how virtual assistants can overcome bottlenecks and improve student success by providing an always available means of support. We developed a dialogue-based approach to disability disclosure that aims to provide a more positive experience for the student and support them to ask questions and provide more useful information (Iniesto et al. 2020; Lister et al. 2020).

In this project, we will share our understanding - drawn from designing a solution for the Open University context - and work with other universities and colleges to understand the potential for assistants to be devised or adapted to their needs.

A profile will be created for each institution we work with that captures the opportunities of virtual assistants for their context and represents the particular context and requirements.

Through this, the project will build understanding as to how the wider sector can benefit from the innovations we have begun to develop and trial.

This project is also aligned to the Learning in an Open World research programme in IET.


Iniesto, F., Coughlan, T., Lister, K. and Holmes, W. (2020). Designing an Assistant for the Disclosure and Management of Information about Needs and Support: the ADMINS project. In: 22nd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility.

Lister, K., Coughlan, T., Iniesto, F., Freear, N., & Devine, P. (2020). Accessible conversational user interfaces: considerations for design. In Proceedings of the 17th International Web for All Conference.

Coughlan, T., & Lister, K. (2018). The accessibility of administrative processes: Assessing the impacts on students in higher education. In Proceedings of the 15th International Web for All Conference.


How can virtual assistants and other AI technologies improve support for students? What do HE institutions need to do to harness these opportunities?

In the ADDAPT project (Artificial Intelligence for Disability Disclosure Across Post-secondary Teaching) project, we collaborated with Jisc to explore these questions. The project used stakeholder workshops with a range of UK HE institutions to promote knowledge exchange, building on the design and evaluation of a disability disclosure assistant for Open University students.

In our new report, we highlight the appetite for using AI technologies, and why disability support is a key area of opportunity amid wider possibilities to improve student experiences and success. Similar challenges in student support exist across the sector, and we provide guidance, prompts and examples to aid the development of strategies to address these.

Access the full report here.