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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David Cameron challenged on special educational needs and inclusion

Lord loves a troublemaker. Yesterday, special educational needs and disability made its first major appearance on the election campaign trail when a father of a disabled son heckled David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party, in front of the TV cameras.

His main point of objection? That the Conservative manifesto states that the party will “end the bias” towards mainstream schools for children with special educational needs and disability. And also stop the closure of special schools. The father argued that there was actually a bias against inclusion in mainstream schools, evidenced by his struggle to get his son into his local mainstream school.

What makes this quite interesting is that David Cameron previously had a disabled son, whilst the Conservative lead on education, Michael Gove, has a deaf sister who attended a special school for the deaf. You’d be hard pressed to come across two senior politicians with such a personal and direct experience of disability.

The Conservatives argue that they’re not in favour of “reversing” the bias or moving towards segregation for disabled children in schools – simply, that they want more parental choice. When Michael Gove was interviewed by three deaf students in January, he said:

“I think for years now we have had this assumption that it’s always better for children who have a hearing impairment or who are living with another disability to be in mainstream school. My view is that there should be a choice. It depends on the child, it depends on the parent, it depends on individual circumstances. And it’s wrong to have a fixed view on this.”

Many would agree that there needs to be choice and flexibility so that the child and parents gets what they need and want. It’s broadly consistent with the Labour party and the Liberal Democrat party’s vision for children with special educational needs. And looking at the National Deaf Children’s Society statement on inclusion, there is a call for a spectrum of provision to ensure that parents of deaf children can, in fact, have this choice.

Nevertheless, the line “ending the bias” has raised a few eyebrows within the charitable sector and the parties do differ in their emphasis and their specific policies fror making sure disabled children are able to fulfil their potential. More widely, it’s fair to say that there are some fairly entrenched views on whether the problem is that local authorities won’t fund places for disabled children in mainstream classrooms, or for special schools, further away. Certainly, many parents of deaf children seem to struggle to get the provision they want, regardless. I suspect, in many areas, there is simply not enough money given to pupils with special educational needs and disability, even though such pupils amount to one in five of the school population.

Despite the lack of answers, it’s good to see this issue getting an airing during the election. Congratulations to Mr. Angry Dad of Disabled Son for making this happen.

To help you make up your own mind, NDCS’s summary of the main three UK party manifestos on deaf children can be found in the manifestos section of the NDCS election web special. Let us know below what you think of what the parties are saying on special educational needs and disability.

What will the Conservatives do for disabled children?

While I was off in Scotland last week looking for the Loch Ness monster, David Cameron was busy setting out the Conservative party’s stall on policy towards disabled children.

It made for very interesting reading. Some interesting points jumped out at me:

1) Instead of subjecting parents to repetitive assessments by different professionals, a ‘crack team’ of professionals should visit families at the same time to assess what support is needed – in terms of social care, benefits, etc. The idea is that a one stop shop will reduce the bureacratic experience faced by many parents.

2) Decisions about what education support a disabled child should be given should be based on their needs. Yet too many parents feel that the local authority cares more about how much it’s going to cost them. At the moment, the same people who do the assessments are the same people who pay for it. In response, David Cameron has pledged to look into making assessments independent of decisions about funding.

3) The Conservatives seem to want to end the trend towards closing special schools ending – to ensure that disabled children aren’t put into mainstream provision where this is inappropriate and to give parents more choice.

The above chime with much of what NDCS is calling for as part of our Close the Gap campaign – and so is something to be welcomed. Personally, I’d like to hear more about the Conservatives will be closing the gap in attainment between deaf children and their hearing peers. Will there be more specialist support funded, for example?

We’ll be keeping an eye out for more policy announcements from the Conservatives to see what they might mean for deaf children. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the above?

Deaf and disabled children denied access to basic NHS care

Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM) have launched an important new campaign today about disabled children’s access to health services.

We know that many professionals work their socks off to help disabled children. But EDCM’s report still makes for depressing reading, particular about the cavalier attitudes of some other professionals to the needs of children with complex health needs. In one example given, a disabled child was left to die and spoken of as if she wasn’t ever really alive at all.

Like other disabled children, deaf children spend a lot of their time at hospitals, particularly in audiology departments. It’s important that all health professionals are child-friendly and have the right levels of deaf awareness to be able to engage effectively with these children.

And a large number of children – around 40% – also have additional needs, of which many will have complex needs. It’s important that their rights to effective hearing aids and audiological equipment isn’t overlooked.

NDCS is supporting the campaign and joining the call for primary care trusts to improve the services they offer to disabled children.

Campaigning for deaf children at the Conservative party conference: day 1

The travelling circus has now moved to Birmingham where the Conservatives are finishing off the party conference season. As we’re still knackered from the last two and as we have a busy day tomorrow, we took today a bit easy – but still managed to go along to two fringe meetings and meet some of our fellow charity campaigners on the travelling circus to see what they’re up to.

Our first fringe meeting was on the role of schools in promoting well-being in children, an issue we’re likely to be looking at in more detail in the near future in relation to deaf children. There was a lot of discussion about the well-being needs of children with special educational needs. I came dangerously close to becoming an angry deaf man when one man, a school governor, suggested that the needs of children with special educational needs shouldn’t overshadow a focus on the needs of gifted children. My immediate thought was that many children with special educational needs would be gifted if they had the right support and focus on their needs! It was a disconcerting point of view to hear. On the plus side, after the meeting, we managed to persuade a leading MP to come and visit a school for deaf children. And the hamburgers served up during the meeting were quite nice.

Later on, we went to the Every Disabled Child Matters fringe meeting. They’re campaiging on disabled children having more places to go and play – and have produced a very excellent video of disabled children talking about their own experiences and frustrations. It had a powerful impact, and reminded me that campaigns tend to pack a more powerful punch when it gives a voice to the people directly impacted.

A packed day tomorrow, and lots of MPs to stalk. Watch this space.

Campaigning for deaf children at the Lib Dems: day 1

Well, our day one at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Bournemouth has gone well, even though we didn’t really plan to get going until tomorrow.

Highlights include:

* Managing to – very briefly – speak with Nick Clegg, the leader of the party, as he walking through the exhibition hall.

* Attending a fringe meeting on inclusion of children with special educational needs, hosted by the Royal National Institute for Deaf people, Treehouse charity for autistic children and the National Union of Teachers. A leading MP, Annette Brooke, came and spoke of her anger that disabled children were being let down by a failure to provide specialist support. My boss, Director of Policy and Campaigns at NDCS, asked the panel whether they thought teachers should be given a statement of entitlements if they work with deaf children – like an entitlement to work in a classroom with good acoustics, specialist support staff with the right qualifications, and with adequate training on working with deaf children. The point seemed to go down well and the NUT seemed keen to follow it up.

* Doing a tour of the exhibition stands and making links with other charities and organisations – including the Royal National Institute for Blind people, CentreForum think tank and the Liberal Democrat Education Association.

* Attending another fringe meeting, run by Every Disabled Child Matters campaign organisation, which managed to attract 3 Liberal Democrat MPs. Reforming Disability Living Allowance benefit was mentioned as a priority by several of these MPs. Families with disabled children shouldn’t be living in poverty as a result of having to care for a disabled child, or buy accessible childcare or buy special equipment. A pertinent point to us given the evidence out there indicating that families with deaf children are also disproportionately in poverty.

The main highlight of the day though had to be seeing celebrity MP, Lembit Opik, in action campaigning for segways to be allowed on the road – by publicly riding it up and down the hill outside the conference centre. If his effort was to prove how safe it is, he probably didn’t count on my Director of Policy and Campaigns getting in the way and nearly being run over by a MP on a segway.

Much busier day tomorrow as Laura comes to town to help us campaign for better education for deaf children.