Disability Minister Maria Miller Becomes Minister for Culture

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis week, former disability minister Maria Miller replaced Jeremy Hunt as Culture Secretary. It’s to be hoped that the experiences of someone who’s spent the last few years representing disabled people, who live with all kinds of access needs, will influence the department to really consider its duty to serve all members of the public.

This week, former disability minister Maria Miller replaced Jeremy Hunt as Culture Secretary. It’s to be hoped that the experiences of someone who’s spent the last few years representing disabled people, who live with all kinds of access needs, will influence the department to really consider its duty to serve all members of the public.

Many exciting cultural events and initiatives put disabled people at the forefront – at the moment, it’s hard to ignore the Paralympics, and we’ve also been spreading the word on Twitter about various disability-focussed art shows and cultural festivals. But of course, WaveLength’s main focus is on the TV and radio world. This part of the Department of Culture’s remit is both vitally important for disabled people, and – surprisingly – an area often overlooked by politicians working in the cultural arena.

Tim says: ‘As a dyslexic person, I find TVs and radios invaluable sources of education and information because they can be enjoyed using solely audio-visual skills. It isn’t only dyslexic people who value radio and TV for this reason: many of WaveLength’s beneficiaries are living with conditions, ranging from dementia to chronic fatigue, that make it hard for them to read and digest the large sections of text found on the internet, books or newspapers. TV and radio are also the perfect alternative for people, like our beneficiaries, who can’t leave the house to attend concerts, films or plays.

For these reasons, Maria Miller will need to bear in mind that a disproportionately large segment of TV and radio users have diverse access needs. Many of these were not catered for in the TV Help Scheme, and need more help from the Department of Culture.

For instance, with the growing number of Alzheimer’s sufferers in the UK, accessible ‘one button’ radios should be a priority. It isn’t difficult to make an easy-to-use radio or TV, but it is unrealistic to expect industry to invest in expensive products which cater for a narrower base of consumers. This is where governments come in; we need to see closer work to make sure that people with a range of specific learning difficulties, cognitive impairments and access needs get the help they need, rather than just the usual suspects. We need equality in provision across impairments and need to end the selectivity that has been taking place.

So what are my hopes for new Culture Secretary Maria Miller? That she works closely with CEG and industry to make sure that the equipment we need gets onto the shelves. That she targets any digital radio switchover Help Scheme to help those who lost out in the TV switchover, with help which is means-tested and available across all impairments. And most of all, that she takes into account the specific learning difficulties and cognitive as well as physical and access needs of the whole country when making decisions about the provision of culture, education, sport and entertainment.

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