People with Disabilities: Access to Services - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:59 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 12:59, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, follow that! The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, has set us a challenge by going across the entire panoply. That probably should be done, but we may need a debate about three times as long, or three different goes at it. Let us use this as our opening shot.

We have passed a law that we do not enact. Most people in this Chamber are veterans of various phases of this and its precursors. A good few years ago, I realised how long I had been here when it had been 20 years since we passed the initial DDA. I was one of the youngest people in the House then, so it was a great reminder of just how mortal I am. One theme has recurred again and again: we talk the talk without walking the walk.

The Government have reassured a certain group that they will have continued employment—those who make appeals to idiotic decisions by government, in this case for disability benefits, because there will be appeals to this. The Department of Health said that it would take care of mental health and that it would become as apparent as physical health, but has just said, “Oh no, there is far too much of it”. I cannot think of anything that would generate appeals and conflict more quickly. Congratulations—effectively, we have two departments at each other’s throats. All Governments have done this to an extent, and I hope that any new Government will be aware of this.

We also do not seem to have taken on board that many fixes can be made quite easily, because we are bound by convention. I must once again remind the House of my declared interests: I am dyslexic and president of the British Dyslexia Association, and I am chairman of Microlink, a disability access company. When chatting through what could be done, I felt one of the easiest things would be to look at communication. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, has just given us a good example of physical communication for one priority group. There is no consistent approach.

For communication of ideas, the dyslexic will always go to English. We have reached a point where we are worrying about passing an English exam. This is ridiculous. For over two decades, I have used voice-operated technology. It used to be an add-on to a decent computer—it had to be decent to handle it—and it is now standard on our operating systems. Most people do not know it is there, but it is: all you have to do is press a couple of buttons, or voice call them into action, and have it read back. But we still have a system where people repeatedly say that you have to pass a written English exam to get into certain places.

I have been looking around this Chamber, and most of us are using an old, established assistive technology—a pair of glasses. You have taken a manufactured substance, changed the lens and stuck it on the end of your nose. That is okay, but using a computer is not. There is a certain degree of absurdity built into the responses here. We and government agencies are still saying, “You’ve got to pass certain tests in a certain way”, and not, “Can you communicate information? Can you pass it on so that somebody knows what you are saying?” No, you have to write it down. We all know how absurd that is.

Let us face it: in the modern world, nobody writes anything much with a pen, other than a couple of lines, after you have left school. You do it all on a computer. I have asked this many times and have not heard a reply against it. Does anybody care if you have word-processed by talking or tapping a keyboard? There might be some weirdos somewhere who think that this is the essence of life, but I hope they are not in this Chamber today. Will we start addressing the practical problems and say that it does not matter as long as you can communicate? We could do this very easily if the Government were to lead on it.

The implications might be biggest for those with dyslexia. We have already heard about autism, and I shudder to think what the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, who will follow me in this debate, would say about this, because the technology for those who have a visual impairment has been very well established for even longer than for those with dyslexia. Why do we not just ask: “Can you communicate properly?” Other groups would benefit from this as well, and this idiotic barrier to accessing training and information throughout the system would be removed. The Government have the capacity to say: “Yes, we will do this, and we will do it in the school system”. We can now say very easily, “You can learn through these methods”.

This is only in pockets: at university, it is perfectly accepted. If you suffered English GCSE and got through it at the fourth attempt, you are allowed to carry on. Even if you are very bad and do not stand any chance of getting through, you can get through. Only certain groups are affected. Are we going to start to remove this communication barrier for things such as training, accessing other types of activity, et cetera? Are we going to do this in a cohesive manner? Are we going to take a lead? This debate does not speak to one department: it speaks across government.

I hope that the Government will be in a position to give us a better steer. At the moment, we are creating artificial barriers that we can resolve easily. This is just one of them. Will the Government please give us some indication that they will do it? They have precedents and legal requirements saying that they should; they should say to people and employers that this communication problem does not matter. It is easily solved: all you have to do is press the button that is already on your computer and you will be able to work, with a bit of guidance about how it works. I am probably damaging Microlink’s client base here, but it is not rocket science. Making sure you do not get noise on the microphone is probably the first step, and then you have done it. It is as simple as making sure that you have a chair that does not give you backache—although people do not do that either.

Can the Minister say when the Government will start to intervene to tell people what is possible and that these things are easily solvable? If they do, they will remove a great deal of stress and some of the queues for benefits. That sort of positive action is long overdue. I hope that we will have a coherent attitude that gets through to people—not to those who dig around and wait in long queues for it, which is aggressively done.