Learning disabilities: Half a million deprived of communication aids

Up to 500,000 people with speech impairments are being deprived of communication aids leaving them effectively “gagged”, a parliamentary inquiry into the human rights of people with learning disabilities was told this week.

Ruth Scott, head of policy for disability charity Scope, said that even when equipment was issued, research showed a lack of skills meant up to three-quarters of  users abandoned it because neither they nor staff around them understood how to use it.

Calling the situation a “travesty”, she said the government did not collect figures on how many people had communication impairments. 

Scope estimates up to 1.5m people have communication support need.

“A lot of people say they have great difficulty accessing the technology” she said. “We are particularly concerned in the context of human rights because if people can’t communicate what they want, can’t say yes or no, it is almost impossible to have choice or control over any aspect of their life because people are making decisions for them”, she said.

The charity Change said there needed to be codes of practice for easy reading and that more training for inspectors from the Commission for Social Care Inspection was needed to ensure providers were making information as accessible as possible.

Sean Webster, project co-ordinator of Change, said that if correspondence such as letters from social services, doctors and utility bills were made easier to understand with the use of pictures as well as words, then people with learning disabilities would require less support.

Mr Webster, who has a learning disability, said: “Everything we get is in jargon, then we need a lot of support and that means we can’t live in our own home because if we get a letter about a gas bill or a letter from social services we can panic and need a lot more support.”

As part of our A Life Like Any Other campaignCommunity Care is calling on the government to ensure enough money is available in the system so that promises made in the Valuing People white paper for people with learning disabilities are not broken.

More information

Joint committee on human rights inquiry on the human rights of adults with learning disabilities

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Government asked to act on communication aids muddle

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Helen McCormack

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