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TX: 24.09.07 - Communication Aids

PRESENTER: LIZ BARCLAY
THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.


BARCLAY
As many as one and half million people in the UK have some sort of communication impairment and a report from the charity Scope, which focuses on people with cerebral palsy, says around 600,000 of those can't communicate without special equipment. But the government stopped funding that equipment last year. Fifteen-year-old Nadia is profoundly deaf and uses a wheelchair. She has a communication aid called a DynaVox, which helps her to lead a full life and go to the same school as her brothers and sisters. Nadia's equipment has been funded by the local authority - Calderdale Council - some other councils have chosen not to fund this kind of equipment. Now Nadia's mum Katie runs the charity One Voice Communicating Together to help similar families who don't get the same levels of support. Karen Perry spoke to Katie and to Nadia about how her aid works.

NADIA THROUGH DYNAVOX
The DynaVox is programmed with pages, words and phrases. This can be added to so that I can say more. I press the button or buttons I need and the aid speaks for me.

PERRY
How reliable is the equipment?

NADIA THROUGH DYNAVOX
My new communication aid is usually reliable and doesn't break a lot. However, my last communication aid broke all the time.

PERRY
Sounds very frustrating. How do you think it compares to normal speech?

NADIA THROUGH DYNAVOX
Using the communication aid makes talking slower as I have to press a few buttons to say a sentence and people have to wait a long time for me to speak.

PERRY
What would life be like if you didn't have this equipment?

NADIA THROUGH DYNAVOX
I would become really shy and may feel embarrassed because I couldn't communicate with everyone. I am able to sign so I can talk to my family and some friends, however, friends and other people may find it hard to talk to me.

PERRY
What couldn't you do without it?

NADIA THROUGH DYNAVOX
I wouldn't have a voice and this would make me sad. I couldn't talk to everyone and I wouldn't have friends or be able to do GCSEs. I would be lonely and excluded.

PERRY
Katie, how would you describe Nadia?

KATIE
As a bright happy cool trendy 15 year old, who's got lots of friends, who hangs out - goes to the cinema - chats to people, goes on MSN, likes Hollyoaks.

PERRY
I understand that Nadia has also been part of a youth parliament.

KATIE
Yeah, Nadia was voted as Calderdale Youth Parliament member and in the summer she actually went to Glasgow for the Annual Youth Parliament conference which she really enjoyed. She's also been part of a drama group and is now part of setting up a new drama project and she also goes to a disabled youth forum on Thursday nights.

PERRY
And tell me about her school life - she's just chosen her options for GCSE.

KATIE
Yes she's doing amazing. She now attends the high school with three of her siblings and the challenges are really about differentiating the curriculum and examination boards and ensuring also that Nadia's fully included in all school and community life.

PERRY
What are Nadia's plans for the future?

KATIE
Well when she's 16 she wants to go night clubbing, she's got two more years of GCSEs, she wants to go to uni. She wants to get a job. She loves holidays - she wants more holidays and she wants to go travelling. So in between she'll probably take a year off and go travelling.

PERRY
And what would your family life be like if she wasn't able to communicate with you through this aid?

KATIE
Well Nadia's aid is everything to her - it's her voice and it's her choices and it's her freedom and right to speak. And without that aid Nadia would be a passive member of our family instead of an active speaker. Nadia would be frustrated, she'd have anger, she'd have feelings inside that she couldn't talk about.

BARCLAY
Katie and Nadia. Andy Rickell is from the charity Scope and he's here and Andy you've been nodding the whole way through that. Your report says up to 600,000 people need communication support such as Nadia's DynaVox. How many of those people get them - have got them?

RICKELL
Well the answer is we actually don't know. And the issue is that the government doesn't record who has communication needs of this type and doesn't indicate how many actually get their needs met. The anecdotal advice - the anecdotal evidence is that a large number of those people do not get the support they require.

BARCLAY
So they are basically missing out on what we've heard Katie and Nadia say about the improvement in Nadia's life and education and social life?

RICKELL
I mean absolutely, I mean in David Attenborough's Life on Earth series the last episode was about human beings and the thing he identified that was distinct about human beings was our complex communication. The right to communicate isn't just a human right, it's the right which makes us human.

BARCLAY
Katie and Nadia told us that their local authority is sympathetic and helps with the cost but it's not the same for everybody.

RICKELL
No that's right, it's the usual postcode lottery. Different local authorities take different approaches. Some areas will provide it but only for certain circumstances, so, for instance, some children find that they have a communication aid but only whilst they're at school, they go home after school they can't take it with them. And at a central level different departments deny responsibility for who's got to take on board this need.

BARCLAY
So is that the underlying problem then, is that the reason that the whole service is so patchy?

RICKELL
Partly but partly I think it's about government deciding where it think it needs to invest its money. Listening to Gordon Brown this morning identifying what he believed the public regarded as the key - the priorities for government, this type of thing doesn't appear at all. Disability is too low down on the spectrum, there's a lot of disablism around, the belief that the amount investment associated with communication aids is significant for an individual - is it worth that investment? I don't think it's made explicitly but it's implicit in the decisions and the way that funding is provided to support this type of provision.

BARCLAY
So what do you want to see done?

RICKELL
Two things really. One is that the government actually record the number of people that have this need and also record how many people actually receive support for this need. And secondly that there should be a legal right to communication support so that every person is able to participate as much as they can. And whether that legal right is a specific piece of legislation or part of something like Lord Ashley's Independent Living Bill because obviously it's part of a whole process about enabling someone to be included, we don't mind but the issue is this is a fundamental right and it's not being met for a significant percentage of the population.

BARCLAY
Andrew Rickell thank you very much for joining us.

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