Cerebral palsy woman in plea to be heard

PUBLISHED: 16:37 21 May 2008 | UPDATED: 10:52 12 August 2010

A VULNERABLE woman with cerebral palsy has been denied the right to speak for nearly six months because nobody will pay to replace her speech machine.

A VULNERABLE woman with cerebral palsy has been denied the right to speak for nearly six months because nobody will pay to replace her speech machine.

Tanya Backhouse, 31, from Bromley, is desperate for a new machine because her current one is broken and needs to be constantly recharged, making it difficult to move around.

The disorder affects her muscle and body movement, but with a speech machine she is able to communicate normally.

However, now Ms Backhouse is forced to communicate with eye movement signalling 'yes' or 'no', and she is feeling isolated and lonely.

Her support worker, Debbie Barr, has battled since December for the new £8,000 computer, approaching Bromley social services and the Primary Care Trust (PCT), but nobody will take responsibility for buying it.

Mrs Barr, who has known Ms Backhouse since she was 12, said: "It's completely inhumane to leave somebody with no means of communication. She has no muscle control, all she can do is say yes or no by moving her eyes up or down.

"I don't like it when I lose my mobile phone so it's difficult to imagine how frustrating it is for Tanya. She is trying to remain positive but it's very difficult not to get fed up.

"She feels vulnerable and it's lonely when she can't talk with anyone. There seems to be a real void in who is responsible for paying for the new machine. When we tell people about her situation, they are amazed that this can happen in England."

Ms Backhouse does not have any learning difficulties and is currently studying for a BTEC in travel and tourism, but when her machine doesn't work it's impossible to do any study.

Mrs Barr said she is determined to keep fighting for the machine until Ms Backhouse is granted the basic human right of communication.

She said: "We have met our MP Bob Neill who spoke to Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone's senior Disability policy advisor, and we have also emailed David Cameron. We have also tried to get Stephen Hawking to support us.

"We are now looking at taking legal action. We went to an event at Inner Temple a few weeks back and spoke to solicitors there but there is more work to do."

A spokesman for Bromley council said: "Bromley Primary Care Trust and Bromley council are fully aware of the issues relating to Ms Backhouse's communication aid and actions have already been taken to resolve the situation."

Last Saturday, a group of eight people walked the seven bridges of London to raise awareness of Ms Backhouse's situation and they have also made a petition to send to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

* To sign the petition or for more information, please contact Debbie Barr on

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