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Why Is Communication a Basic Human Right?

Still frame from film "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." (Courtesy of United Nations Photo)

Photo: Still frame from film “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” (Courtesy of United Nations Photo)

Communication is at the heart of who we are as human beings. We connect and interact, exchange information and ideas, all of which is made possible through communication. Communication is intrinsic to our humanity as social beings—our relationships are built and maintained through communication, our education and work depend on communication, and our participation in justice systems, political, and civic life are all negotiated through communication.

The place of “communication” in human rights is usually seen in light of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states that everyone has a “right to freedom of opinion and expression”, including the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. Article 19 of the UDHR protects the right to express opinions and communicate information and ideas in different ways. This statement implies that all people have the right to be able to communicate.

The International Communication Project (ICP) recognizes that everyone has the potential to communicate. Whether a person is able to communicate is influenced by whether their communication abilities and preferences are accepted and supported in the environment, and whether they have access to the services they require to achieve their communication potential.

There are still voices that remain less heard, or even unheard. People with communication disabilities are at risk of being part of the group who are ‘unheard’.

The upcoming 70th anniversary of the UDHR will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) education in Ireland. The Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists (IASLT) is proud to be celebrating the long tradition of SLTs in Ireland supporting individuals to achieve their communication potential.

IASLT also welcomes the recent ratification in Ireland of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCPRD). This is an important step towards protecting the rights of those with disabilities. Like in many of the partner countries in the International Communication Project, there is still progress to be made in ensuring that the voice of those with communication disability is represented—and listened to—at all levels.

Although communication is only specifically mentioned in Article 19 in the UDHR, communication is, in fact, central to how we enjoy many other human rights: the right to take part in the government of the country (to vote, for example), the right to education, the right to participate in community life, the right to work. All of these rights are interwoven with communication. People with communication disabilities may be marginalized and excluded from enjoying these and other rights.

Communication is not only central to how people enjoy many of their human rights—it is also the medium through which people claim or assert their rights. It is then, when rights need to be ‘exercised’, that we might consider people needing a ‘voice’ or needing to be heard, in advocacy, protest, or legal challenges. The ideas of ‘speaking out against injustice’ and of citizens having ‘equal voice’ are valued in many societies, but there are still voices that remain less heard, or even unheard. People with communication disabilities are at risk of being part of the group who are ‘unheard’.

The ICP is an important collaboration working to increase the visibility of communication disability in national and international policy developments, and to make a difference for all people living with communication disabilities. The International Declaration of Communication Rights and the public pledge of support provide you with an opportunity to join us by recognising that everyone has the potential to communicate, and that the opportunity to communicate is a basic human right.


Written by Caroline Jagoe, assistant professor in speech & language pathology in the Department of Clinical Speech & Language Studies at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. Jagoe is currently the global engagement officer for the Collaboration of Aphasia Trialists.

Read more about the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.