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Severely Disabled Pupils Face Wait For Home Access

School pupils with serious disabilities are facing an indefinite delay, likely to last six months or more, to receive the assistive technology they need to benefit from the government’s new ‘Home Access’ computer scheme, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The £300 million scheme ( http://www.homeaccess.org.uk/ ), managed by education ICT agency Becta ( http://www.becta.org.uk/ ), is providing computers to children aged 7-14 from low-income families. Launched this month, it aims to help around 270,000 families by March 2011.

The project does take extensive account of pupils with special access needs, with its basic package – computers, software, internet access and support – coming pre-loaded with a suite of assistive technology software, which includes literacy support tool Read and Write ; ‘concept mapping’ tool MindView 3; and magnification and speech tool iZoom.

To meet the assistive needs at home of pupils who have more severe visual impairments or other complex disabilities such as mobility issues or deafness, two further, more specialised packages are available. Package one – which includes a keyboard with larger keys and a large trackball mouse for those with limited motor skills – is also available from the outset.

However package two, a bespoke package to provide equipment for pupils who are blind, have cerebral palsy or severe mobility problems such as a touch-screen, a Braille keyboard or screen-reader software, is not yet available, and may not be for six months or more, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The delay is due to the original supplier tender being pulled following non-compliance with some of its terms, according to Mick Thomas, universal access manager at Becta. Thomas declined to supply details of the non-compliance, but said: “We’ve discussed it with other suppliers and are looking to provide a service that’s up and running before the end of the summer holiday.”

Thomas says that as well as the obvious benefits to pupils of the assistive elements of Home Access, the programme’s scale – thought to be the largest ever provision of assistive technology in the world – will help bring assistive technology further into the public eye. “We’ve got a package that will overcome physical access issues for a whole bunch of people, and once we get the final piece of the jigsaw in place, it will be an amazing opportunity. A lot of the software and hardware traditionally thought of as being very niche is going to become more mainstream. I’ve worked in the assistive field for many years, and this is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for,” he said.

NOTE: For the full story see Section Two, this issue.

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