Examination of Witness (Questions 340
WEDNESDAY 8 MARCH 2000
340. That is absolutely right. That could be
A. I think that certainly could be and it would
be a tremendous fillip to moving things along. I have to say that
I have worked with the Employers Forum on Disability for a long
while. It is an organisation which has grown very rapidly. My
perception is that since the passage of the Disability Discrimination
Act, it has concentrated the minds of industry and organisations
marvellously. Now hearts and mind are all very well but if there
is a possibility of prosecutionOrganisations tend to avoid
difficulties. I think if you can avoid the possibility of having
cases brought and so on then it is a tremendous incentive to get
it right; to take some trouble in advance. One of the things which
has happened is that an awful lot of work in this area has tended
to be reactive. When a problem occurs people tried to put it right.
Nowadays, what is beginning to happen is that people are looking
at their processes, the way they are doing business, and saying,
"How can we avoid trouble in the future because it is going
to be cheaper to do it this way." I think if we can get some
mechanism into this whole area of having information provision
e-commerce, then I do feel that is most likely to deliver the
341. On a statutory basis really, with the Government
taking the lead.
A. I believe there has to be a statutory framework,
a statutory provision in the background. One of the things that
is happening now that is in place is that there is much more incentive
for people to get together to work out codes of practice, but
there has to be the suggestion that if it is not sorted out that
action could be taken.
342. Rather like the Disability Discrimination
Act, where adjustments were required on a statutory basis in buildings
employing a minimum number of people. Westminster buildings, etcetera,
were statutory requirements in organisations employing, whatever.
A. That is right.
343. You would require a similar situation for
access to the Web. I cannot see any reason why that could not
be worked on. May I ask my second question which is completely
different. The last few questions have been dealing with telephony
rather than e-commerce as such. You said in your opening comments
that your concern was to make the telephony or even e-commerce
available to older people, young people, and making websites.
Those were your three suggestions. With regard to older people
I do think, with the greatest will in the world, particularly
with the sort of people my friend Lord Cavendish was talking about,
the mentally and physically impaired, there comes a cut-off point
where you say even if they could access the internet they probably
would not, and they may not necessarily need such access. I take
your point about telephony and your point about equipment which
is available. I happen to have, sadly, first-hand experience of
a mentally and physically impaired person. All I know is that
to get a telephone, where he could have a human voice at the end
of it, because he was seriously aphasic and only able to press
one button, I really had to go to about ten different stores and
eventually I got one that worked. But when it comes to e-commerce,
do we not have to accept that there will be sections of the populationthat
although it would be marvellous to say that everybody is going
to be involved in the Internet and e-commercethere will
be sections of the population to whom that will not apply, or
they will not be capable of dealing with it.
A. I am very, very glad to have a chance to
respond to that. That is one of the things that is absolutely
key in any programme which is developed either in Europe or in
the United Kingdom, to look at the requirements of older people,
and to recognise the fact that you are not going to get everyone
on the Internet, but you have to get mechanisms by which everybody
can have access to these services, the information, the products
that are available over the Internet. Perhaps I could read this.
I had a note from one of the members of my Committee who is involved
in the health services, particularly dealing with older people,
and she suggests: "I think it might be useful to highlight
the need for opportunities for older people particularly to learn
about the new technology. It will certainly bring benefits to
them if they can master it." It talks about it being beyond
the purse of many elderly. Access through libraries, which is
the only way we can get to them, which in many rural areas is
not possible as public transport is poor, so we should be considering
access through sub-post offices, churches, etcetera. I think I
would add to that indirect access. What organisations should we
be working with or identifying who can be the intermediary for
getting this information to people? How should we be advertising
the fact of these services, whether local radio, local papers.
How can we make people aware?
344. That is a brilliant idea. In fact, to get
the benefits of it to this section of the population, who would
not be able to access it themselves, there should be a link in
A. That has to involve people and it may well
be in the EU that it would be different for different states.
345. Three very quick questions. When you were
talking about interference with mobile phones and digital cordless
phones, do those only interfere with the individuals who are using
them, or does this interference carry further in that if there
is somebody with a hearing aid, do other people in the same building
A. My knowledge is only anecdotal. I understand
that if somebody using a hearing aid passes through an office
or close to where people are using digital cordless phones, or
close by someone who is using a digital mobile phone, there can
be an unpleasant effect. It is most serious for the user.
346. Therefore, it may be affected by digital
TV as well if it is being used inter-actively?
A. Probably not, because you are not as close
to the actual equipment. We are looking at the electro-magnetic
fields here. I have not heard of it occurring with digital TV.
I do not think you would get that close.
347. So it could be quite a problem for somebody
with hearing difficulties in an office building?
A. I believe so, yes.
348. To move to those with learning difficulties,
there are something like five per cent of all children who have
learning difficulties. We only have the funds to look after special
needs of 2 and a half per cent. Has any research taken place in
firstly how that 2 and a half per cent are coming to terms with
computers and, secondly, the 2 and a half per cent who are not
being cared for, are they dropping behind to an even greater extent?
A. I do not know of any research. What I would
be pretty certain of is, as you say, that they are dropping behind.
There is a need for research. I know that the National Deaf Children's
Society is looking for funds to start a research project to see
how disabled children use the telephone and telecommunications,
in general, which will pick up this issue of use of the Internet
for children with hearing impairment. There is no information
available in that field, at the moment, and that is fairly generally
349. Because at the other end of their school
life a vast proportion of those who become homeless or leave school
early do have learning disabilities.
A. What I think is so frustrating is that once
you get digital technology, it is actually inherently much easier
to transform this information into different formats and to have
different kinds of displays, so potentially there is a tremendous
opportunity for producing simple interfaces that could be very
helpful for people with learning disabilities.
350. You very kindly opened by giving us your
three priorities. You talked about the website, you talked about
older people. Unless there is anything further you want to say
on older people, the bit that does remain is students with disabilities,
if you wanted to make any comments there.
A. I think we began to touch on this when we
began to talk about children. It seemed to me to be a systematic
weakness of the European communication that the issues about disabled
people were moved into one particular area and not referred to
in the other areas. It seemed to me that targets in the key areas
such as young peopleand we have talked about the pupils
having access and being able to use the Internet and really becoming
members of the information societyin that programme the
children with additional requirements and special needs must be
integrated into that. The target is part of the main stream to
make sure that they can be included from the outset.
351. I understand, yes. Is there anything further
you would like to say to us? We did send you a set of questions
and we have not gone through them all. We have touched on some
but if on reflection you would like to drop us a note afterwards
on points that you had prepared yourself.
A. There is one question, in particular, I would
like to comment on, where you in your question 6 talked about:
could consumer protection (I like the protection from minority
groups) could they hinder the growth of e-commerce? I believe
there is virtually nothing that will hinder the growth of e-commerce.
It is going to happen. However, I do think that the protection
of minority groups is key to Europe really fully benefiting from
this in terms of the bringing of the disabledI suppose
I would like to go back. When I started work 30-odd years ago,
a file was a brown cardboard folder and there were filing cabinets.
At that stage I reckon my disability was about a 30 per cent overhead
in terms of the amount of effort I had to put in compared with
my able-bodied colleagues. For me, the development of information
communication technology has really made an enormous difference
to the way in which I am able to interact on a level playing field
with other people and contribute at the level which I am capable
of doing. Having seen that, it is terribly frustrating to know
that there are other groups of disabled people who are not benefiting
in the same way. If the technology were really brought into play,
I am sure it could be done in a way that would not be so expensive
that it would delay or hinder economic growth. To give one example.
Deaf blind people who at the moment really can only use the text
telephone service with equipment costing £5,000. Perhaps
10,000 people in the United Kingdom could benefit from that system,
so it is not an enormous amount of money in total. In Europe,
as a whole, there are obviously proportionately more and it is
in areas like that where it is tremendously important that there
should be a European approach, because it is by tackling these
things on an Europe-wide base or having consistency Europe-wide,
that you can increase the size of these small groups and enable
people and really make it much more easy to include those people,
those groups in the general interactions which are now being far
more electronically based.
352. You could make the economic case as well
as the social case.
Lord Cavendish of Furness
353. May I ask something coming out of that.
It is a difficult question and a rather provocative one. Is there
a European country which can be said to lead on these matters?
Who could be said to adopt the leadership?
A. I would say practically it is the United
Kingdom. In terms of what we have actually delivered we have done
an enormous amount. One particular example, seeing this morning
the new text relay service which is going to be coming in over
the next year: it is a network to enable people with different
types of text phones to communicate with each other, and to bring
in a relay operator who will act as a speaker for people to interpret
between the hearing third person and the person using speech automatically.
That is something in which we are definitely leading. There is
a great need to have a system in place which will identify best
practice and will enable that to be picked up by the other Member
354. On that very encouraging note I think we
will conclude the meeting. Thank you very much indeed, Mr Twitchin.
It has been very helpful indeed for the Committee. If there is
anything further you wish to say to us, please drop us a note
on that or e-mail us.
A. Thank you, my Lord Chairman.
2 The witness subsequently added the following:
The cause of interference between hearing aids and digital mobile
and cordless phones is the electromagnetic transmissions emitted
by the handsets and, in the case of cordless phones, also by the
base stations. Although these are weak, they are picked up by
the circuitry of hearing aids close by, generating interference.
If interactive TV is delivered via telephone line, cable or link
from a satellite dish, the outgoing signals will not be emitted
as electromagnetic radiation from the TV set. Thus, there should
not be interference with hearing aids.