Life-changing project is axed

25th August 2006 at 01:00
New technology can help disabled children thrive in the mainstream.

But will they be denied it because of a lack of funds?

Javed Moore's face lights up when asked about his high-tech equipment.

"Where do I start?" he said. "The technology I have is great. It gives me the opportunity to do things that able-bodied people do, like talking, going on the internet, presenting my own work and lots more."

Javed, 16, has cerebral palsy and can only move his neck and head. But his "assistive technology", two computers, operated by head movements and fitted to his wheelchair, let him play an active part in life at Southgate school, a busy, mainstream comprehensive in Cockfosters, Hertfordshire.

Javed uses a computer similar to Stephen Hawking's to speak. Another lets him use a keyboard, write and access the internet. This was provided by the Government's pioneering Communication Aids Project.

The equipment - and the training he received to use it - has changed Javed's life. "I would like to say thank you to the CAP project," said Javed, who is in Year 10 and studying for six GCSEs. "It has made a big difference to my life. School's great. I'm happy to be involved in a mainstream school. Recently it has been stressful because of exams but I am always trying my best."

Government cash for the project ended earlier this year, and although education authorities are still expected to fund schemes, many fear other disabled pupils may miss out on the chances given to Javed Tracey Fillan, a speech and language therapy technical instructor with the health authority in Kirklees, Yorkshire, has felt the effect of the end of the scheme.

"We have a brilliant team but it is drifting apart because of lack of funding. We are supposed to be supporting these children but we can't because we don't have the money. We are really struggling."

The case of Marc McMenemy also shows the difference technology can make.

Awena Bosley, special needs coordinator at Bourne college in Southbourne, Hampshire, said: "We did reading and speaking work with him but that did not really work. As well as profound dyslexia, he had a speech impediment and dyspraxia. He is very bright but his self-esteem was rock-bottom. I applied for a laptop for him from CAP and it has changed his life."

The laptop came with word-prediction software and a program to help the user plan, organise and present ideas. "It has made it much easier in lessons," said Marc, 16. "I am more independent. It should be available to everyone that needs it."

Since getting the laptop, Marc has been made a prefect and helped another student with dyslexia get to grips with technology. He has completed GCSEs and plans to study for a BTec in IT.

"His self-esteem was so low and he was switching off in class," said Ms Bosley. "He didn't behave badly but was in danger of excluding himself. Now he stands tall. He laughs and jokes with us and helps others. Assistive technology has made him much happier; it transforms lives."


Assistive technology

Assistive technology refers to equipment that gives disabled pupils enough independence to join mainstream education.

Such technology lets them to work with others on equal terms. For example a pupil who has problems moving their hands could be given the technology to control a computer using head movement rather than a keyboard.

There is no precise definition of assistive technology but it can range from a spell-checker through to a Stephen Hawking-style speaking computer.

Assistive technology differs from normal disability aids, says John Liddle of Abilitynet.

While the latter includes aids such as wheelchairs that help with everyday life while the former helps primarily with education.

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