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Empowering Technologies
Industry News : 04/04/2012
Oxford ACE Centre to close end of June 2012

Nearly 30 years of support for children with complex needs comes to an end.

This news comes from Martin Littler on the BATA news mail out

"The Shock News today is that the Oxford ACE Centre will be forced to close after almost thirty years' service to learners with severe and complex needs - particularly those without speech. Few BATA members will not have benefited from the work of the ACE Centres over many years in promoting and applying Assistive Technology. They have been respected senior members of the British AT community.

The money has just run out. ACE Centre trustee Bill Nimmo said, "Vital services like ours that provide so much support through high levels of expert knowledge and understanding of people's needs cannot be allowed to close and we ask the Government to urgently review the sustainability of these essential services.

"The ACE Centre Advisory Trust staff and trustees are deeply saddened that the centre is scheduled to close at the end of June 2012. Despite significant efforts to ensure the sustainability and future of our Centre, we are unable to continue to operate in the current financial climate."

The ACE Centres were set up as soon as personal computers and the related "micro-electronics" showed the prospect of offering real help to all learners. Dedicated "voice output communication aids" (VOCAs) were quickly developed and there was even fresh interest and development of low-tech solutions such as simple eye-gaze frames.

The work of the two ACE Centres (set up by a Conservative Government in 1983) was so outstanding that, in addition to Government funding, the Oxford ACE Centre gained substantial charitable funding and Scope (then called the Spastics' Society) funded a specialist SLT in ACE North in Oldham in the late eighties.

The last dozen years have seen the introduction of many less expensive VOCAs and the introduction of iPads and the Apps and Accessories which can turn tablet computers into usable speech aids. What has not changed, yet, is the unwillingness of Government to provide children without speech with the means to communicate and learn. With the disappearance of the Oxford ACE Centre they have now lost much of the expert advocacy, research and assessment ability that was available nationally.

ACE North is separate and unaffected and Cenmac offers services in London - but, like Oxford ACE, neither has ever had access to funding to provide speech aids for those who need them. Children who need wheelchairs get them. Children with impaired hearing or vision largely get the help they need, as of right. Children without speech have no clear path to get the aids they need.

A campaign begun by Scope in 2007 sparked a meeting at the Lords hosted by Baroness Walmsley which inspired Ivan Lewis MP to promise that "something must be done". He was as good as his word and we got the Bercow Report, the Communication Champion and the FAST Report. As we speak ad hoc groups are bidding to become either "hubs" or "spokes" to provide VOCA devices under a Health umbrella. The education service, which has cared for these learners so far was, puzzlingly, not central to the FAST proposals even though schools would seem to have a statutory duty to provide VOCAs from September 2012 onwards under the Equality Act 2010.

Nothing is in place so far. The fact that Health is facing £20 billion cuts by 2015 adds to the gloom and highlights the challenge we face. Meanwhile one of the key organisations which really could have helped has disappeared from the scene."
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