HC Deb 06 March 2003 vol 400 cc1153-4W
Mr. Boswell

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what the Government's policy is on the provision of disabled people's IT needs; and if he will make a statement. [98697]

Mr. Charles Clarke

[holding answer 25 February 2003]: All education and training provided through my Department, including IT training, is available to disabled people.

Since the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 came into force in September 2002 it has been unlawful to discriminate against disabled students by treating them less favourably than others. In addition, responsible bodies have a duty to provide reasonable adjustments to provision where disabled students might otherwise be substantially disadvantaged. From September 2003 that duty will include adjustments involving the provision of auxiliary aids and services.

My Department is working with the Disability Rights Commission, the Learning and Skills Council, the Higher Education Funding Council and other partners in the post-16 sector, to help providers implement the new duties with additional funding, guidance and training. £172 million has been allocated over the years 2002–04 to support this work.

Provision of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

E learning and ICT can help disabled learners, and we recognise that the provision of assistive technologies can make a significant impact on their lives. My Department is working with the Department for Work and Pensions to improve coherence of access to and delivery of ICT equipment, services and information for disabled people. This is particularly relevant as they move from education to employment. It would also enable disabled people to use ICT provided for learning to also be used for employment or leisure.

Many of the 6,000 plus UK online centres are equipped to meet the immediate, basic, access requirements of a large majority of learners. Some centres are specifically targeted at groups of people with disabilities to encourage not only learning but also inclusion into society. Work is currently under way to provide centres with adaptive technologies and training to enable them to provide a better service for disabled users. We will be evaluating their usage next year.

Ufi/learndirect are implementing a specialist disability specific service for learning centres and individual learners, available through the learndirect help-line. The service is provided by AbilityNet, a national charity and the UK's leading provider of expertise on computing and disability, offering advice, information and guidance on hardware and software applications to improve accessibility and usability.

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