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Promoting Communication as Part of the Human Rights Agenda

“In order to build inclusive and accessible communities, it is critical to remember that not all individuals with disability have only physical or mobility limitations.”

As a founding member of the International Communication Project, Speech Pathology Australia continue to promote communication as a basic human right. Something that is central to the Association’s vision and at the forefront of much of its policy and advocacy work.

In particular, the Association argue that participation, education, employment, access to public services and expression are all basic human rights. However, thousands of Australians have these rights compromised on a daily basis because their opportunity to communicate is not met.

This failure is mirrored in services and supports at all levels of government and is attributable to a lack of acknowledgment of the critical role that communication plays in allowing individuals to participate in the wider community. It is clear there is a need for greater acknowledgement of the rights of people to communicate to their full potential, and for the barriers to full participation in Australian society for people with communication disability, to be addressed.

Recently, the Association had the opportunity to raise the awareness of communication disability and its impact on all aspects of a person’s life, in relation to a number of human rights conventions: the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The first was in a submission by the Association in response to consultation on the draft comments on Article 19 of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD). Here, the Association urged that communication access be recognised because, in order to improve independent living and community participation, barriers to both physical and communication access need to be addressed.

The Association argued that ‘[i]n order to build inclusive and accessible communities, it is critical to remember that not all individuals with disability have only physical or mobility limitations. Many people also have problems with their speech, language, communication that are permanent and impact on their functioning in everyday life, and for some people, these are the only disabilities they experience. In Australia, communication disability has long remained “invisible”, with a lack of recognition of its impact leading to people with communication disability being excluded from being able to be involved in, and fully participate in, aspects of life which are their right (e.g., voting, education, employment, health care).’

The CRPD is an international treaty that identifies the rights of persons with disabilities. Those countries (State Parties) that have adopted the convention have a range of general and specific obligations regarding the implementation and monitoring of the Convention, with periodic reporting. There is a formal process for the Committee of the CRPD to consider how well a country is implementing the intentions of the Convention.

Following the Association’s representation to contribute, it was invited to provide input to the Disabled Persons Organisation Australia (DPOA) submission to the Committee. Specifically, the Association provided comment and posed questions on the following articles:

  • accessibility (Article 9)
  • access to justice (Article 13)
  • living independently and be included within the community (Article 19)
  • education (Article 24)
  • health (Article 25)

While not all of our specific comments/questions were incorporated within the final DPOA submission, a number were, either in a specific or more general sense, including the adoption of communication access principles and standards (Article 9); provision of supports in the justice system (for those with communication difficulties) (Article 13); and measures to ensure that the Disability Standards in Education (2005) are assisting people with disability (Article 24).


The Association’s submission on the Association website.

This is an edited version of an article that appeared in Speak Out, August 2017.