Dismay over deaf children’s school taxi changes

Paul Jackson and his daughter Niamh who is deaf. Photo: Paul SUS-160209-155243001
Paul Jackson and his daughter Niamh who is deaf. Photo: Paul SUS-160209-155243001

A number of parents are unhappy with changes to their deaf children’s school taxi service being changed.

Paul Jackson, of Bexhill, complained after finding out his eight-year-old daughter Niamh’s journey to Willingdon Primary School would be much longer after East Sussex County Council (ESCC) decided to merge it with another.

Annabelle Bridger is deaf and relies on a taxi to take her to school. Photo by Susan Stevens SUS-160209-155228001

Annabelle Bridger is deaf and relies on a taxi to take her to school. Photo by Susan Stevens SUS-160209-155228001

This meant there would be twice as many children being picked up, with no one capable of sign language nor experience of dealing with autistic children.

After the complaint, ESCC said an escort who can sign would accompany the taxi and it would go back to two cars, but Mr Jackson is still angry with the local authority.

“All of these children need routine, trust and most importantly the means to communicate their needs,” he said.

“The fact that one adult is now escorting seven to eight children and has little to no experience dealing with disabilities is a disgrace.

“ESCC have a duty of care which is being woefully neglected and needs to be investigated.

“The case of the lowest bid who wins the contract to transport these kids is irrelevant.

“It’s about relationships, consistency, experience, routine and trust that these kids need, none of which ESCC seem to care about.”

Susan Stevens’ nine-year-old daughter Annabelle Bridger is also deaf and shares a taxi with Niamh.

The mother, from St Leonards, is worried about her child going back to school with a new taxi company because Annabelle gets frustrated with change and they have had little communication from ESCC.

“We didn’t get any information from the county council that it was going to change the situation and I’m really worried about my child being in that taxi as they have no signer and I don’t know anything about them,” she said.

The children go back to Willingdon on Tuesday and both parents are not pleased with the timing of the changes which has given them a few days to prepare.

An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “All potential transport providers are pre-assessed before bidding for county council contracts to ensure they are equipped not only to safely transport children to school but to meet the transport requirements of children with a range of needs.

“However, we do understand Mr Jackson’s concerns over the new taxi provider and the lack of a driver with knowledge of sign language, therefore the new operator will be looking at providing an escort for Niamh who is able to sign.

“We understand that change can be difficult and to help the children get used to the new provider we are arranging a familiarisation visit before the start of the new school year.

“We have also taken on board concerns about the journey time and as a result, rather than seven or eight children using one taxi, we will be splitting the group into two taxis, to reduce the time of the journey.”

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