Protest over lip reading charge for deaf

DEAF people in Essex could be suffering from discrimination due to the steep increases in the cost of lip-reading lessons, it was claimed yesterday.

James Hore

DEAF people in Essex could be suffering from discrimination due to the steep increases in the cost of lip-reading lessons, it was claimed yesterday.

The sessions were free of charge until 2004 but a 30-week course now costs £186, meaning some people simply can't afford the vital help.

Protestors gathered at County Hall in Chelmsford yesterday to raise awareness of the issue, although Essex County Council said they had to introduce charges because of central Government cuts.

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Richard Howitt, MEP for the East of England, joined campaigners and questioned why counties such as neighbouring Suffolk were still able to offer free courses.

He said: “Lip-reading classes enable deaf people to remain in the mainstream, using oral communication where possible, yet Essex County Council's decision flies in the face of promoting integration.

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“These classes are a life-line for those who are protesting. The council must take heed of their concerns and follow the example set by neighboring counties and make this vital service free.

“I would like to look carefully at whether this is a form of illegal discrimination against deaf people in Essex.”

He said for many deaf and hard of hearing people lip-reading can be the only way to communicate with people at work, home and while out and about.

Emma Harrison, head of campaigns at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), said: “For many deaf and hard of hearing people, being without these classes, unable to learn the skill of lip-reading, leaves them isolated, unable to communicate with friends and family.

“Government, locally and nationally, has failed to recognise the importance of lip-reading classes and has allowed the costs to sky rocket - people simply can't afford to attend.

“RNID wants to see courses in Essex provided at no cost to the learner so those who need to learn this vital skill can do so. Lip-reading is not a hobby, it is a life skill.”

Last night, Essex County Council said: “Funding for Adult Community Learning in Essex comes from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and not from Essex County Council; consequently the council follows LSC guidance on fees.

“Where we remit fees for approved courses, we can claim back the difference - otherwise we would not be able to afford to run the course.

“The current LSC guidance is that lip-reading is not eligible for fee remission, so we are unable to recoup the loss of fee income and therefore have to charge a fee.”

The spokeswoman added: “We will always aim to help students who feel they should be eligible for fee remission by examining all criteria in relation to their circumstances.”

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