Clause 14 - Accessibility Strategies and Plans

Part of Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 29th March 2001.

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Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt Labour, High Peak 3:45 pm, 29th March 2001

Given the inadequacies of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 it has been a pleasure this afternoon to hear the fervour of converts from the Opposition Benches. I am against the amendment, partly for the reasons explained by the hon. Member for St. Ives and partly for the reason just given by the hon. Member for Uxbridge. The first thing that an adaptability strategy needs is assessment of need. Need is independent of the availability of money. After assessing need, one must assess priorities and look for the easy-win parts of the strategy—those that can be implemented quickly, easily and cheaply. At that point one considers a time scale for implementing the rest. Those elements add up to an accessibility strategy, which is not initially dependent on cost.

It was right to table the amendment, and for us to debate the issue. For four years, before I came to the House, I advised local authorities on making services and information accessible to people with disabilities. I am only sorry that I shall not have the opportunity, in a few weeks' time, to return to that profession, which I enjoyed. If I learned one lesson, it was that the cost of getting things wrong is much greater than the cost of getting them right. It is very important that the right provision is set up, the right advice is taken and needs are tackled in the right way.

I would, although it would involve a cost, include in the access strategy an element of awareness training: disability awareness, deaf awareness and visual awareness training for staff. To pick up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley, I commend anyone who is building an infants school to visit Chapel-en-le-Frith infants school in my constituency. In my maiden speech, I condemned that school—well, I think that it had been condemned already—for its wholly inadequate buildings. On one side of the road was a rotting Victorian building and on the other were leaking 40-year-old huts.

Within six weeks of my coming here, the Department for Education and Employment wrote to me saying, ``Here is £1.75 million. Go and build a new school.'' It is an enhanced resource school, with a very big special needs department. There are children with disabilities in the school, and it was built with them in mind from the word go. Even the window sills are only about 2 ft from the floor, which means that the children can look out the window. That is almost unique in an infant school. The design is excellent because the requirements of the children—and in particular of special needs children—were kept in mind throughout.

My final point on accessibility strategies is that it is not only the children and further education students who benefit. In a few weeks' time, many schools will be used as polling stations in one election or another, and people who vote will benefit.