"63,000 people with speech impairments are not voiceless- more often than not they are rendered voiceless, because the necessary support for an independent life has been denied them on the political agenda" says Michael Chalupka, Director of the Diakonie Österreich in Austria, who highlights the gaps in the Austrian social services. He says "Communication support aids, such as the puff and sip device or the electronic speech-generating device are difficult to obtain and are often only partly funded. Just a comparison: It would seem impossible for us to imagine denying someone a wheelchair- we have to be just as uncompromising when it comes to other supporting aids!"
In order to be able to obtain the supporting aids, a long-winded route needs to be taken, as there are many responsible organs to get through, such as the health and accidents insurance companies and pensions funds as well as the different states and the Federal Social Welfare Office. Furthermore, there are also private organizations which contribute to funding. "It is unacceptable that those concerned are sent from place to place and that no one seems to want to take responsibility. The next federal government has to accept responsibility here and get rid of this muddle when it comes to who is in charge, which ultimately is detrimental to those who need help" says Chalupka.
Kathrin Lemler also wants this to be nothing out of the ordinary in future and wants children incapable of speech to be able to find a means to make themselves understood early on. She herself has a speech impairment and has relied on technology-assisted communication support since she was born. Lemler stresses that "All my past experience up until now has shown that communication aids were ultimately the starting point for me to be able to live my life independently and autonomously". It would otherwise not have been possible for her to work at the University of Cologne.
Diakonie and VERBUND Support Those Affected
Since 2009 Diakonie, with the support of the electricity suppliers VERBUND, has offered instant aid to those affected by speech impairments via a fund. The company therefore helps to close the current socio-political gap. "Altogether we were able to provide 5,300 people with advice, and around 330 people with disabilities have received direct support in acquiring communication support aids. With this support, people can lead independent lives, communicate or work. This not only helps those affected and their families but also society", explains Beate McGinn of the electricity provider VERBUND.
New Government Must Comply with UN Recommendations
In 2008 Austria committed itself to implementing the "UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities". At the start of September 2013, the UN completed its first state assessment, and imposed a few recommendations onto Austria. " Within this framework, the United Nations have recognized that the federal structure in Austria can often act as a hindrance and therefore suggest there be an overall legal framework for disability policies" says Chalupka.
According to Diakonie, when it comes to the distribution of the supply of aid, this means that the following is necessary:
- a standardised contact point for those affected and their relatives as well as institutionalized cooperation of all those bearing the costs for aid
- adjustments and/or regular updates in the aid catalogues of the Austrian Social Security, so that newer and electronic products can be recorded (the focus currently lies on prevalent aid such as bandages, prostheses etc.)
- adequate funding for equipment but also sufficient funding for advice for those who are affected.
"The federal government has already in part stipulated these steps in the national action plan on disability- the ambitious scheme has to now be kept to. We request that the next government renew their commitment and promptly begin implementing it, so that people don't have to be kept voiceless for much longer" concludes Chalupka.