§ Mr. Ashley
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) if he will institute an inquiry into the special problems of deaf and blind children and adults;
(2) how many interpreters there are for deaf and blind people;
(3) what steps he proposes to take to set up a specialist service for deaf and blind people;
(4) how many deaf and blind children and adults there are in the United Kingdom; what proportion of these is totally deaf and blind.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
At 31 March, 1977, the latest date for which information is available, some 1,990 adults were registered as being both deaf and blind in England and Wales. A further 2,224 adults were notified as suffering a combination of blindness and physical, sensory or speech handicaps. For children under 16, the figures were 45 and 355 respectively. These figures do not include people who were registered as either hard of hearing or partially sighted. Figures are not available in respect of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
My Department is not aware of any authority which employs staff solely to act as interpreters for people who are both deaf and blind. As part of their wider responsibilities, however, I would expect social services departments to be able to arrange for a service, most probably by using a voluntary body as agent.
Health and local authorities have a duty to make appropriate provision to meet the special needs of people who are both deaf and blind, as they have for other groups of disabled people. The duty is part of their statutory responsibilities.33W
My Department is already funding research at the institute of mental sub-normality in Kidderminster into the needs of multi-handicapped blind and deaf/ blind adults and adolescents. I have also approved the payment of a grant to the Royal National Institute for the Deaf towards the development at Poolemead, near Bath, of a unit for deaf/blind young adults and to the National Association for Deaf/Blind and Rubella Handicapped partly to finance conversion of premises at Market Deeping, near Peterborough, where a unit to accommodate other deaf/ blind young adults will provide assessment and training programmes. The question whether a specialist service is needed to provide support for this group would need to be answered in the light of the study we are funding and experience gained at the units. While any decision about a wider inquiry into problems and needs should await the findings of the Kidderminster study, I shall be glad, meanwhile, to continue to look into any specific matters which my hon. Friend may wish to raise with me.