14 July 2011
‘Accessible’ is a word that most people associate with physical access to buildings or buses. People with disabilities campaigned for decades to afford the right to equal access in public places, and as a result, society has become more ‘accessible’ to many more people, whether through markings on pavements for people with visual impairments, or ramps outside public buildings for people who use wheelchairs. Communication ‘access’ is a less familiar term, and still less understood by the majority of people, despite the fact that there are an estimated 2.5 million people in the UK with communication difficulties of some kind or another. In broad terms, ‘communication access’ refers to the right to information – to have information in formats that make sense – whether in a different language, or in pictures or symbols.
Governments in the UK have been promoting this kind of access, albeit less visibly than others. More than ten years ago, the Scottish government published an important document called ‘Same as You’, a policy statement on the future of services for people with learning disabilities. It represented a new step towards a more inclusive and accessible future. It made an important reference to the role of communication and information;
‘Better information, communication and advocacy are central to making any changes and putting principles into practice. If we are to include people with learning disabilities and autistic spectrum disorders more fully, they need to have accurate information so that they can make informed choices and decisions’ (Same as You, 2000, p42).
The following year, a very similar policy statement was published by the Department of Health in England in ‘Valuing People’ (2001). Both of these were heavily influenced by the All Wales Strategy for people with learning disabilities, also groundbreaking policy which set the scene for many of the reforms of services for people with learning disabilities in the 1990s and beyond.
One of the key initiatives which grew out of this reform agenda, - became known as ‘Easy Read’ – ensuring that public services provided information that was accessible to people who, for whatever reason, found written English difficult to understand. My colleagues within speech and language therapy have been instrumental in promoting this over many years. Today there are a large number of organisations, many employing people with disabilities, who provide help and guidance on making information more accessible. Last year, HPC commissioned Inspired Services Ltd, to produce an Easy Read version of the HPC’s public information leaflet. This was developed with and by service users in collaboration with members of the HPC Fitness to practise team. Making information about how to complain ‘accessible’ was a challenging task for all those involved. HPC has made a clear commitment in its strategic objectives to make information about its processes more accessible, so that people know how to complain, and where to complain. It is essential for a regulator to take steps to ensure that information on how to complain is as ‘accessible’ as possible. I am delighted to see that the easy read version is now available on line and my thanks to all those who made it happen.
Anna van der Gaag