What are auxiliary aids and why do they matter?

I was having a rummage around the attic in my parents’ house over the weekend and came across a blast from the past: my old radio aids from school.

My radio aid clipped onto my belt and had a wire that plugged into my hearing aid. My teachers or my mum would wear a microphone around their neck. And hey presto, everything said would be amplified remotely into my hearing aids.

They weren’t perfect. I could only hear what the teacher was saying, not my best friend sitting next to me. They sometimes amplified wider background noises. And, of course, the teacher would sometimes forget to turn the microphone off. Let’s just say I’ve been subject to conversations in the staff room that I really shouldn’t have.

But it did the job. I could follow lessons in the classroom. And my Mum could do her job and help me develop language. And other children loved the fact I could give them a 5 minute warning of when the teacher would be back from the staff room.

Radio aids like mine are often cited as an example of an “auxiliary aid”. It sounds like something from Star Trek but they are basically things that help disabled children in the classroom. They could also include, for example, communication support workers. Lots of deaf children get this kind of support because they have a statement of special educational need that says this help is needed. But most deaf children don’t have a statement and therefore no entitlement to this help if they need it.

Around 18 months ago, the previous Government passed a law, with cross-party support, that would legally require schools to provide auxiliary aids as a “reasonable adjustment”. In other words, schools better have a very good excuse if they didn’t provide it, if needed. A consultation has just closed on whether the Government should go ahead and bring this law into force. Better late than never.

It’s a really important change to the law and will introduce a new safeguard to help sure deaf children get the help they need. I needed it 20 years ago and deaf children today need it now. If the Government don’t hurry up and bring it into force, I’m going to seriously question their commitment to helping deaf children.

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