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Raising Global Awareness of Communication as a Human Right

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In this, the 70th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), it is timely to consider whether the declaration is truly universal.

The rights agenda, through the UDHR and other conventions such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, provides the platform through which the basic human right to communicate effectively can be championed. Article 19 of the UDHR includes the right to “freedom of opinion and expression … and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas”.

While this could be seen to encompass those with communication disorders, there is no explicit recognition of their unique needs. Members of the audiology and speech-language pathology professions remain acutely aware of the limitations and barriers for those with communication disabilities, restricting their ability to exercise and enjoy their basic rights. As a result, there remains a need to raise global awareness of the communication needs of those with speech and language disorders. For this reason, and a shared belief that communication is a basic human right, the International Communication Project (ICP) was conceived during the 2010 International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics (IALP) Congress in Athens, Greece.

Not only is communication a human right, it is the essence of what makes us human.

The ICP strives to highlight the importance of human communication and the significant impact of communication disabilities on every aspect of life. It joins organisations around the world in raising awareness of and advocating for people with communication disorders. As part of its advocacy efforts, the ICP has posted (now in 13 languages) the Universal Declaration of Communication Rights, which over 10,000 people have ‘signed’ online. The ICP has now extended its reach through social media, publishing a quarterly online newsletter and planning digital campaigns, focused on communication health.

The rights of people with communication disabilities should be explicitly acknowledged within major public policy and strategy documents, across health, disability, aged care, education and early childhood, and justice sectors. Policies should acknowledge and seek to redress issues relating to availability and accessibility of services and supports for people with communication disabilities. Therefore, the current focus of the ICP is to influence international health and disability policy through interaction with world health policy bodies such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Knowledge of current statements on and resources related to communication disabilities held by these international bodies is a critical underpinning to advocacy efforts.

Communication skills underpin the key indicators of successful involvement in modern day society, including positive social relationships, literacy and numeracy, educational attainment, employment, and civic participation. Not only is communication a human right, it is the essence of what makes us human. The 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a timely reminder of how far we have come in accepting and protecting people’s human rights. It is also a timely reminder of the further work needed to strengthen global awareness and recognition of the right to communicate effectively, and how this is paramount in order to achieve entitlements to dignity and equity, and for a full and successful participation in society.

In February 2018, the ICP published an article in a special edition of the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology released to mark the 70th anniversary of the UDHR. The article is titled “The International Communication Project: Raising global awareness of communication as a human right”.

This article was provided by Speech Pathology Australia.

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