HL Deb 03 March 1983 vol 439 cc1209-10
Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken to keep up to date with development progress in the United Kingdom within the European Community regarding information technology of special relevance to severely handicapped people, in addition to communication aids.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are anxious that the full benefits of information technology are made available to severely handicapped people. To this end the Government have launched a number of initiatives specifically designed to help disabled people through use of the new technology. For example, the Open University is developing a synthetic speech output for the blind, and money is being provided for the development of equipment which will help people who are both deaf and blind to communicate, using specially adapted telephones. There are also projects for information technology to help children with learning difficulties, to develop word-processing for the blind and to provide visual display to help speech development for the deaf.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, in welcoming the very good news contained in my noble friend's Answer, may I ask him what steps will be taken to co-ordinate the many developments of this kind, both in the United Kingdom and in other EEC countries, and how this information will be disseminated to severely handicapped people and to the medical profession and the ancillary services?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the Government are keeping in close touch with similar developments within the European Community and are pleased that the EEC have recently launched the Handynet concept, details of which I can provide for my noble friend. This will facilitate the exchange of information in technological and other developments to aid disabled people. So far as the dissemination of information is concerned, my noble friend will be aware of the five new communication aids centres. They are a welcome addition to the area of disseminating information about communication aids, but the Government feel that they would be perhaps too specialised to cope with the very great variety of disabilities and their very different requirements.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that from 14th to 18th March an exhibition in another place on communication aids for the disabled and the elderly is to be held under the auspices of the United Nations and the British Medical Association? Would the Minister agree with me that this is most encouraging?

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, my Lords. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for drawing that exhibition to the attention of your Lordships. The exhibition has been sponsored by the Department of Industry and is to be opened by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether any explanatory memorandum on the various matters which he has mentioned is available which would be of interest to people who are working for the disabled and, if so, whether one or two sets could be made available in the Library?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I shall certainly bear in mind what the noble Lord has said. I have in front of me a list of 19 or 20 Department of Industry projects for information technology and the disabled. That list can be made available immediately.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that, while we may very well keep pace with the technological development of our European partners, we do not necessarily keep pace with them in the actual provision of this kind of equipment to disabled people? For example, would the noble Lord agree that if every totally deaf person was able to have access to the kind of equipment which is used by Mr. Jack Ashley in another place, many of those totally deaf people would be able to get and to maintain full-time employment?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a good point, but the provision of this equipment is extremely expensive. It is probably better that funding should be available more generally than too specifically. The equipment about which the noble Lord speaks is often produced in fairly small batches and is not quite so economical to produce. Nevertheless, up to about £5 million for information technology and the disabled will be available in 1983–84.

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