HC Deb 27 July 1993 vol 229 cc839-41W
Mr. Matthew Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1) what is his Department's policy on which information produced by his Department is published in alternative media to standard print such as Braille, tape or large print;

(2) what arrangements his Department makes to ensure that blind and partially sighted people have access to information produced by his Department where it has not been published in alternative media such as Braille, large print or tape.

Sir John Wheeler

The Northern Ireland Office is currently working on its policy regarding employment of people with disabilities. A code of practice on the "Employment of People with Disabilities in the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS)" was issued in August 1992 by the equal opportunities unit—EOU—to all Northern Ireland Departments. The code sets out the policy on the employment of people with disabilities, provides practical guidance on ways in which staff at all levels can help people with disabilities to participate fully in the work of the NICS and describes the special arrangements for the employment of staff who are registered disabled. The code lists the range of equipment which is available to assist people with a visual impairment: computer and Braille printer, computer and voice synthesiser, Braille jotter, computer enlarged text, tape recorder and personal reader service. In addition, a document brailling service is operated for those visually impaired civil servants who find it convenient to have documents in Braille for reference. While there is no overall policy in the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Departments for the publication of information in alternative media or on the access to information where it has not been published in alternative media, the following procedures are in place throughout the Northern Ireland Departments.

Department of Health and Social Services

When publishing any information, the choice of media used, including Braille, large print or tape, is made in relation to the nature of the message and the audience to be reached.

Department of Economic Development

Through the Training and Employment Agency's disablement advisory service, there is a wide range of services available. Contact with clients is on a personal one to one basis. All relevant information is also available either in Braille, on tape or large print. When a client requires information which is not already available in the medium most acceptable, it is provided within three to six days.

A tape on consumer rights has been produced by the General Consumer Council for NI in conjunction with the Blind Centre which has distributed it by way of the talking newspaper network.

The Local Enterprise Development Unit is in the process of producing a range of audio tapes which provide advice on key areas of business development which are accessible for the blind or partially sighted.

Department of the Environment

The roads service operates the 'orange badge' scheme which provides on-street parking concessions for registered blind people and those with severe mobility handicaps. In this connection, the roads service has arranged for the production of an audio tape which outlines details of the orange badge scheme for those who have difficulty in reading the explanatory leaflet. This tape is available on request from Disability Action and the Blind Centre for Northern Ireland.

The road safety education branch makes use of TV, radio and large posters in road safety campaigns. The Jordanstown schools for children with the auditory or visual handicaps are supplied with road safety teaching materials and are visited by the Department's road safety education officers, who liaise with teachers on the teaching of road safety to blind or partially sighted people.

Other areas of the Department, while not having a defined policy relating to the production of information in alternative media, give assistance as required to blind or partially sighted people. For examples, ratepayers/housing benefit claimants with impaired vision are given every assistance in understanding correspondence and cornpleting forms. Where, appropriate, staff visit such persons in their own homes to assist them.

The water executive is currently in discussions with the Royal National Institute for the Blind to identify relevant information which could be produced in alternative media and stored centrally for access by registered sighted or blind persons.