Rachel O'Neill

Deaf education pathway co-ordinator

  • Moray House School of Education and Sport
  • University of Edinburgh

Contact details



Moray House School of Education and Sport, CL 2.17

University of Edinburgh (Holyrood Campus)
Post code


  • Office hours - School Disability Contact: Tuesdays 12 - 3 pm drop-in Charteris Land 2.17 for students with disabilities or PTs who want advice.
    Book a half-hour slot here: https://edin.ac/3CC8sPB

    Personal tutees: please email.
    For deaf BSL signers, I can organise a Zoom or FaceTime meeting.


I worked as a teacher in secondary, further and community education for 25 years before moving to the University of Edinburgh in 2006. I was a teacher of deaf children and an EAL tutor and used both approaches in schools and colleges with deaf students. At Edinburgh my main focus is researching deaf education and providing post-qualifying education for teachers of deaf children. From 2014 - 18 I was programme director for the wider MSc Inclusive Education programme.  I support the work of the Scottish Sensory Centre, based in the School of Education and Sport, which involves liaison with a wide range of teachers, professionals, parents and deaf people on policy issues about deaf education. From 2018 - 2022 I was co-editor of Deafness & Education International. I am currently the School's Disability Contact.

About SSC

Responsibilities & affiliations

Membership British Association Applied Linguistics

Events organiser for BAAL SIG in Language Policy (2017-20)

British Association for Teachers of the Deaf

Scottish Education Research Association

British Education Research Association

Undergraduate teaching

Postgraduate teaching

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Current PhD students supervised

Eileen Burns -  Assessment practices and principles for deaf candidates who use BSL in Scottish schools.

Maggie Chan - Disability representations in biographical and fictional picture books.

Hatice Yarar -  Multilingual families with late diagnosed deaf children.

Past PhD students supervised

I have previously supervised 33 MSc and MEd dissertations on topics of deaf education, ESOL and inclusive education.

Research summary

  • Deaf young people's transitions to college, work and higher education
  • Language policy and British Sign Language in education
  • BSL glossaries and definitions for curriculum subjects
  • Literacy and deaf learners, including online literacies

Current research interests

Language policy in deaf education: comparing the impact of BSL legislation on deaf education in Scotland and Wales. With Dr Rob Wilks, South Wales University Comparing views of teachers of deaf children working bilingually with signed languages in Scotland and South Africa. With Dr Claudine Storbeck, Witwatersrand University

Past research interests

Views of parents living on a low income with deaf children about their experiences of services and knowledge about language acquisition. Successful deaf readers reading and searching online (with Wolfgang Mann of Roehamton University and Robin Thompson of University of Birmingham). Transition of deaf students from school to college, university and work (with Alys Young and SORD, University of Manchester). The Achievement and Opportunities for Deaf Students in the United Kingdom: from Research to Practice History of deaf education

Knowledge exchange

Committee member of Edsign lectures, jointly organised with the universities of Queen Margaret and Heriot Watt (2007 -  2020)

Member of the cross-parliamentary group on deafness

Member of the Scottish Funding Council group on British Sign Language plans for colleges and universities (2017 - 19)

Chair of the University of Edinburgh BSL Working group (2018-19)

Affiliated research centres

Project activity

Current project grants

2022, Joint research with Dr Rob Wilks of South Wales University about impact of British Sign Language policy and legislation on deaf education in Wales and Scotland.

2021, Joint research with Dr Claudine Storbeck of Witwatersrand University, SA, into views and attitudes of teachers working bilingually with deaf children in Scotland and South Africa. CI.

Past project grants

1998, Viscount Nuffield Auxiliary Fund, Investigating text support with deaf students
2005, RNID, Deaf students’ experience of transition from FE to HE
2007, Scottish Government Additional Support for Learning, Science Signs Glossary
2008, Learning Teaching Scotland, Evaluation Science Signs Glossary
2009, The Nuffield Foundation, Achievement and Opportunities for Deaf Students in the United Kingdom, with Prof. Marc Marschark from NTID, USA.
2010, Scottish Qualifications Authority, Feasibility Study Digital Exam papers in BSL, with Dr Audrey Cameron and Gary Quinn, Heriot-Watt University
2011, STEM Disability Committee, Royal Academy of Engineering, Physics and Engineering Sign Development in BSL, with Dr Audrey Cameron and Gary Quinn, Heriot-Watt University,
2012, NDCS Post-school transitions of young deaf people, with Prof. Sheila Riddell
2013, STEM Disability Committee, Royal Academy of Engineering, Physics and Engineering Sign Development in BSL, with Dr Audrey Cameron and Gary Quinn, Heriot-Watt University.
2013, University of Edinburgh Innovation Initiative Grant towards Science signs Glossary evaluation
2013, Birkdale Trust towards Science signs Glossary evaluation
2015, Development of Geography & Earth Sciences Signs in British Sign Language, (12 m to Dec 2015): OMV, Lognostics, NERC, Geological Society of London, DONG Energy, ESRI, with Dr Rhian Meara, Swansea University and Dr Audrey Cameron, Scottish Sensory Centre.
2017, Increasing the impact of British Sign Language Glossary research about stem cells in deaf communities. College of Humanities & Social Sciences Knowledge Exchange and Impact grant; for 12 months to Dec. 2017, with Dr Audrey Cameron, Dr Jan Barfoot and Prof. Vivian Rumjanek (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro).
2017, Cognitive strategies employed by hearing and deaf secondary students while reading online; for 18 months to June 2018. With Dr. Wolfgang Mann, Roehampton University & Dr Robin Thomson, University of Birmingham. Funded by British Academy / Leverhulme Trust.
2018, Longitudinal research study to investigate the factors influencing the employment and post-16 education outcomes of deaf young people. National Deaf Children's Society; with Alys Young, University of Manchester; including a PhD studentship based at University of Edinburgh. CI
2020, National Deaf Children's Society research grant, Assistive devices during the pandemic with Brian Shannan.

View all 55 publications on Research Explorer

Conference details

I regularly attend conferences such as BAAL, BERA and ECER. I was active in organising conferences such as BAAL SIG on Language Policy.  I am interested in presenting on my current or previous research.

Invited speaker

  • British Association of Applied Linguistics Language Policy Forum, Gallaudet University, Washington DC. Online symposium, with Dr Rob Wilks  15 - 16th June 2022
  • 24.3.22 Success from the Start: working with parents of deaf children. Dublin City University invited speaker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjeItNgvKy8
  • Language Policy Forum May 2020. University of Cambridge (cancelled)
  • 16.11.20 Bridging the Gap conference, University of South Wales, Cardiff. Invited presenter (in BSL). Effect of BSL (Scotland) Act on Education.
  • 20.3.19  More Like Colorado? British Deaf Association conference, Belfast. Reporting on the 'Telling it like it is' research project
  • 3.7.18  National Deaf Children's Society conference, London: Right for the Future. What research tells us about deaf young people's transitions after school
  • 28.9.16 Online Science in Sign: the development of the British Sign Language Science Glossary. Keynote speaker at Deafnet Conference,  Johannesburg, South Africa. Deaf Education – Empowering Deaf persons in Africa through Knowledge.


  • 7.5 - 8.5.20 Language Policy Forum 2020. University of Cambridge: SIG of BAAL. Events organiser.
  • 30.5 - 31.5.19 Language Policy Forum 2019. University of Edinburgh: SIG of British Association of Applied Linguistics. Committee member: Events organiser
  • 31.5 - 1.6.18  Language Policy Forum 2018. Sheffield Hallam University: SIG of British Association of Applied Linguistics. Committee member: Events organiser
  • 24.6.17  Scottish Sensory Centre / Adept Conference. Edinburgh: Aiming Higher for Deaf Students. 

Papers delivered

Bridging the Gap conference, Cardiff: Effect of BSL(Scotland) Act on Education. University of South Wales. Invited presenter (in BSL) 16.11.19.

Edsign talk: Telling It Like It Is, with Jo Bowie, 2.4.19 University of Edinburgh

More like Colorado? British Deaf Association Conference, Belfast  20.3.19 Invited speaker

Passing the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015.Deaf Studies Conference 13.2.19. Invited presenter (in BSL). University of Wolverhampton.

Strategies used by deaf and hearing children during online reading. ESRC Festival of Social Science event, Frank Barnes School, London. 11.11.17 With Robin Thompson and Wolfgang Mann.