23 Sep 2008

Hugh Henry article in Paisley Daily Express 25 June 2008


Most of us take the ability to communicate for granted.

We can express ourselves whenever we want and with mobile phones and texting there seems to be no respite!

But do we stop to think about those who have difficulty in communicating?

For some, specialist equipment provides the means to do what most do all the time.

Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) equipment can give the opportunity to communicate, learn and study, work and even just socialise.

Unfortunately the equipment is not automatically available to those who need it.

Young people from Capability Scotland’s Corseford School recently became involved in the campaign to improve access to AAC equipment.

Four of the pupils, Owen Hunter, Steven Sweeney, Courtney Pollock and Craig Gibson recently visited the Scottish Parliament to advance the campaign.

Last week I visited these young campaigners out at Corseford School and heard from them the difference AAC equipment makes.

Unfortunately in Craig Gibson’s case, Renfrewshire Council refused to provide equipment last September because Craig would be leaving School in June to go to Reid Kerr College.

What a penny pinching, narrow minded decision.

Surely Craig, from Johnstone, should have the same right to communicate as anyone else?

I am backing the campaign for better AAC equipment throughout Scotland, and the young people from Corseford School are leading the way.

Why do those whose lives have been damaged by asbestos have to go through hoops to get justice?

When I was a Government Minister I introduced a fast track Bill to overturn a decision of the courts which denied access to justice for asbestos victims and their families.

Now another court decision has denied access to compensation for those suffering from what is called ‘pleural plaques’.

This condition, along with symptomless pleural thickening, is most often found in those who worked in shipbuilding, construction, and certain types of engineering.

Those who suffer from pleural plaques have a significantly higher risk of developing serious asbestos related illness.

I am delighted that Scottish Ministers last week published a new Bill to overrule the decision of the House of Lords which restricted access to Justice.

Those with asbestos related conditions have enough to worry about without facing a denial of justice.

Last week, along with Wendy Alexander and Trish Godman, I met with parents and teachers to discuss what is happening in Renfrewshire Schools.

What we heard is profoundly worrying.

We heard about experienced teachers being given retirement and not replaced, more and more composite classes, higher class sizes, cuts to the books budget and less money to spend on teaching our children.

What’s worse is that the budget cuts will hit even harder next year.

The concerns were expressed for both primary and secondary schools, and no school seems to be immune.

Surely the local councillors responsible for this should stop and think again.

Our children only get one shot at school.

Don’t ruin it for them.

There is no doubt that action is needed to tackle alcohol abuse, and its consequences, in Scotland.

But Kenny McAskill, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, has got it wrong by stigmatising 18-21 year olds.

It’s just daft to allow them to buy drink in a pub, but not to take home a bottle of wine from an off licence for dinner.

Equally it’s daft to force decent law abiding people to go in a separate queue in a supermarket to buy alcohol.

Why not use the existing powers to crackdown on underage drinking, public drunkenness and anti social behaviour?

Think again, Kenny.