PhD: disability, technology and society

Scholarship - Technology

A new scholarship is being offered to investigate issues of disability, technology and society

This scholarship is provided by the Melbourne Disability Institute (MDI) and will be primarily located within the Melbourne Law School under the primary supervision of Prof Jeannie Patterson, co-director of the Centre for AI and Digital Ethics (CAIDE). The PhD research will be co-supervised by Dr. Piers Gooding from the Melbourne Law School and Dr. Jennifer Davidson, lecturer in social work, from the faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.

Applications provisionally close April 2nd 2021.

The MDI and CAIDE partnership invite proposals from applicants interested in undertaking research into the role of new and emerging technologies in the lives of people with disabilities, and particularly people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities. People with cognitive disabilities may include older people with age-related impairments and disabilities, such as dementia.

About the opportunity
Digital technologies have potential for overcoming social, economic and geographic barriers and improving outcomes in health, access to justice and economic inclusion. However, they also risk increased discrimination, differentiation and exclusion. Importantly, issues of digital equity are not just about access to technology, but also about language, content, comprehension and safety. Very little research has been undertaken into the impact of the digital revolution or the rise of the information age on the lives of persons with intellectual and cognitive disabilities.

This PhD scholarship is aimed at supporting the successful candidate to help address this research gap. The successful candidate would propose a thesis topic, which is broadly concerned with the promise and peril of digital technologies in the lives of persons with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. This could include a range of technologies variously described as AI, machine learning, and other technologies of automation, as well as general information and communication technologies available through smartphones and tablets that may assist people to connect to others, whether for recreation, employment, the receipt of services, to develop and maintain relationships, to monitor and audit services, and so on.

This research program would evaluate the presumptions about knowledge, language, accessibility and consent that inform the design and implementation of new technologies of particular relevance to persons with intellectual and cognitive disabilities. The aim would be to promote ways to make a technologically-integrated society fairer and more equal.

Examples of research topics include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • legal and political issues concerning digital platforms for purchasing disability services, e.g. support staff;
  • algorithmic and data harms against persons with disabilities, particularly for people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities;
  • the implications of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the digital era, particularly for people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities;
  • the social, economic, political and legal dimensions of digital exclusion/inclusion, including its impact on wellbeing;
  • consumer protection concerns of persons with disabilities amid the proliferation of algorithmic and data-driven technologies;
  • digital technologies as assistive devices and/or as therapeutic devices for persons with intellectual and cognitive disabilities, including the use of “smart homes” and the “Internet of Things”; and
  • the rights of persons with disabilities who are users and subjects of digital technologies, and the responsibilities of those who employ such technologies.

Applicants interested in pursing specific issues within these broad areas are encouraged to apply.

We are seeking PhD proposals that meet the following criteria:

  • Builds evidence to help people with disability, their family, informal supporters and carers to lead engaged, self-directed and fulfilling lives on an equal basis with others;
  • Aims to influence policy, law and/or practice impacting on people with disability;
  • Demonstrates active involvement of people with disability throughout the project.

The partnership will maintain a strong interest in the equality outcomes of the PhD, and the successful candidate will have the opportunity to work with MDI and CAIDE to develop materials relevant to law, policy and practice. Community-engaged and participatory research approaches are particularly welcome, and the successful candidate will be supported with access to local networks, data and industry expertise.

The scholarship benefits include:

  • Fee offset (full fee-exemption)
  • Stipend of $31,200 per annum (2020 pro-rata rate, tax free) for three years
  • Allowances as per the Graduate Research Scholarship Terms & Conditions
  • Eligibility to participate in the CAIDE early career research academy in Nov/Dec 2021

The Melbourne Disability Institute provides an additional $2,000 per annum (a maximum of $7,000 during candidature) in research support funds. The successful candidate will also receive automatic entry into the Institute’s PhD Program in MDI or CAIDE.

Further, as the student will be based in law they will additionally have access to the standard law PhD entitlements including up to $7,000 in research support funds over the course of their candidature, and a host of other MLS initiatives.


The scholarship is conditional upon acceptance into a PhD program at the University of Melbourne. Applicants must be eligible for acceptance by the University of Melbourne into a PhD program. The applicant will need to meet the entry requirements of the host faculty, which is the Melbourne Law School. By the commencement of the program applicants must have completed an accredited fourth year program at Honours 1 or Honours 1 equivalence level, or at an Honours 2 level with an outstanding record of professional or research achievements since graduation. (See MLS eligibility requirements for more information).

Applicants must be available to commence in 2021.


Applicants must be eligible for entry into the Melbourne Law School PhD program. In the first instance, applicants should contact the proposed supervisors (, & with the following information:

  • Name and contact information
  • Relevant academic qualifications and experience (up to one paragraph)
  • Some brief ideas for a PhD thesis (up to one paragraph).

After this step, the applicant will be asked to confirm eligibility for the PhD program, before providing relevant information and a small research proposal.

Key Dates 

Please address the answers to the above points and submit to by April 2nd 2021.

Applications will be reviewed from 5-19th April 2021 and the outcome will be announced shortly afterward. 

Students must be enrolled by end of September 2021 and commence their PhD before end of December 2021.

For more information, please follow these hyperlinks:

If you have any questions about the PhD opportunity or the application process please contact Dr Piers Gooding or Dr Jennifer Davidson