A disability charity has called on the government to carry out a national audit to find out how many disabled adults in the UK have speech, try language and communication needs (SLCN).
Scope also wants the National Audit Office to discover what services are available, price and how many adults are not receiving the support they need.
The recommendations are included in the final report from Scope’s No Voice, order No Choice campaign, which says that everyone who can benefit from augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) – such as high-tech communication aids, sign systems and symbols – should receive the equipment and support they need to communicate.
The charity says “radical” improvements are needed to services providing communication-related equipment and support, and has called for a network of regional centres of AAC expertise to support local services.
The report criticises the “fragmented approach” to provision of AAC services and the “lack of specialist expertise”, and calls for a guarantee of lifelong provision and ongoing support for those who use AAC, as well as improvements to the AAC workforce.
Labour MP Roger Berry has tabled a Commons early day motion backing calls for an audit.
In 2007, Scope estimated that as many as 600,000 people in the UK could benefit from AAC, but it believes the real level of need could be much higher.
The campaign has secured a government commitment to improving services for children with communication impairments, but it wants this extended to adults.
Martin Pistorius spent 14 years unable to communicate before he met someone who introduced him to AAC.
He said: “I had no real way to communicate and even when I did make attempts to communicate, nobody understood me.
“In fact, they didn’t even see it as an attempt to communicate.”
He can now communicate by using an infra-red head-mouse, an alphabet board and hand signs.
Ruth Scott, Scope’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “The government has made good progress on improved communication-based support for children.
“It now needs to turn its attention to tackling the woeful situation for adults with communication impairments.
“Without knowing the true picture of how many disabled adults have communication needs, little can be done to ensure they are provided with the right support.”
The Department of Health was unable to comment.
1 December 2009