Radio aids in the early years – your rights

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research, National Deaf Children’s Society

We published research last year which shows that radio aids – which provide deaf children with additional amplification – can have a big impact in their early years development. In particular, they can make it easier for children to hear their parents and others more clearly when, for example, in the buggy or in a car. Despite these clear benefits, many local authorities do not make radio aids available to parents of pre-school deaf children to use at home.

We’re calling on local authorities to work with health bodies to review their policy on this issue and to ensure that parents are given the opportunity to try a radio aid with their children aged 0-4 , both at home as well as in early years settings to see if it works well for them.

Quality standards on the use of personal radio aids state that every deaf child should be considered for a radio aid at first hearing aid fitting.  However, families tell us that this does not always happen.  So what should parents do if the local authority says no? Here’s a brief summary of your options in challenging this:

First, you should ask for information on why your child has been turned down for a radio aid. In some cases, there may be good reasons why a radio aid is not the right option at this time. It’s also possible that a Teacher of the Deaf may have concerns about loss or damage to equipment. Having an open discussion may help to find possible solutions to any issues.

If the answer is still no, you can challenge this decision in two different ways.

  • If your child already has an Education, Health and Care plan (England), a statement of special educational needs (Wales and Northern Ireland) or a co-ordinated support plan (Scotland), you can also ask for a review of the plan/statement so that a radio aid can be added to it. You also have the right to request an assessment for a plan or statement if your child does not already have one. Our website has more information about your rights under laws for children with special or additional needs.
  • You can also make a formal complaint to the local authority on the grounds of disability discrimination. In particular, if you live in England, Scotland and Wales, local authorities and education settings are required, under the Equality Act 2010, to provide ‘auxiliary aids’ (which includes radio aids) as a reasonable adjustment to disabled people. They are also required to take steps under the Public Sector Equality Duty to proactively remove any disadvantage that disabled children may experience. Given the importance of good language and communication in the early years, we think it should be seen as unreasonable to deny a family with a deaf child a radio aid unless there are good reasons why not. Our website has more information about the Equality Act and how it can be used in education.
  • If the local authority still says no, you can appeal to a special Tribunal that hears cases about potential disability discrimination and/or a failure to follow laws relating to special or additional needs. There are time limits, so it is important to get more advice or information as soon as this happens.

For more information and advice, you can contact our Helpline. You can also borrow a radio aid through our Technology Test Drive.

If you have already made a complaint to your local authority or are still experiencing challenges, please do get in touch. We’re looking for families who, with lots of support from us, might be interested in taking legal action on radio aids in the early years – you can find more information about this in our short video.

Changing Technology: How we help you keep pace

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Kim Hagen, Technology Research Officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

I recently came across an old survey we ran in 1984. One of its main conclusions was that parents felt they had limited access to easily understood information about technology. Using technology can be quite daunting at the best of times, and it’s especially hard to see its benefits if you don’t have all the relevant information!

We’ve worked hard in the past decades to ensure families have the information they need to make an informed choice on the right technology to support their child. We cover technology in our events for families and parents of deaf children. Our Roadshow bus delivers technology sessions to schools around the UK. We sent out 1,866 copies of our ‘How Technology Can Help’ and ‘How Radio Aids Can Help’ booklets last year. We continue to campaign for better provision of technology to deaf children and young people; last year, we published research on the benefits of using radio aids in the early years at home. And let’s not forget our Blue Peter Technology Loan Service that went live in the mid-1980s. The name has since changed to the Technology Test Drive, but the principle is still the same: a free-of-charge technology loan service offering deaf children and young people, their families and the professionals working with them the opportunity to borrow products and try them out in their own environment.

We have close to 100 different kinds of products on our Technology Test Drive. Technology is constantly evolving and children want to be seen with the latest tech. That’s why we continuously update our stock. And we recently launched the Borrow to Buy scheme in which our members can borrow all the latest Phonak Roger radio aids, soundfield systems and accessories. But remember: despite the changes in technology the fundamental principles of how technology can benefit deaf children don’t change that much. A few examples:

• Amplified headphones can help young children listen to videos on an iPad and develop their vocabulary.
• Alarm clocks with a vibrating pad can help young children learn to tell the time and older children to get up on their own and be more independent.
• Radio aids can help your child make the most out of education and fulfil their true potential.
• Streamers can be a great way for deaf young people to make phone calls on their own, taking control of their lives and embracing responsibilities.
• Direct input leads can be used to listen to music. They look similar to the in-ear headphones a teenager’s peers may have, making them fit in and helping to develop their social identity.

The summer holidays are nearly here. Many of us might even have a break from our everyday hectic lives. Why not take this time as an opportunity to try out technology with your child? Access our Technology Test Drive, put in a request, and… happy testing!