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Speech Pathology Week an important reminder that communication is everyone’s right

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Speech Pathology Week has officially begun and runs through to August 28.

This year’s theme is “Communication is everyone’s right”.

It alludes to the staggering inequalities suffered by the 1.2 million Australians who struggle to communicate.

Alarmingly, due to the nightmare of what is now termed Long COVID-19 in the Northern Hemisphere, this number is tipped to rise.

Long COVID is a collection of physical and neuropsychological symptoms that can persist for months.

A recent British-led patient study analysed survey data from more than 3700 people with COVID-19, seven months after contraction.

Speech and language communication difficulties were detected in 48.6 per cent of respondents.

“I had to terminate many phone calls because I could no longer comprehend the speakers nor communicate clearly with them,” was how one patient described their symptoms.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also amplified the sense of isolation that effects people with speech disability, with lockdowns and mandatory masks making broad communication even more difficult.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.”

from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Tim Kittel, president of Speech Pathology Australia, says if one in seven Australians are having difficulties understanding and using language, their entire ability to access and influence the world is impaired.

“This is further impacted by the complicated by the COVID environment we live in,” he says.

“Speech Pathology Australia wants people with communication disability to be heard and recognised without judgment.”

In Australia, many people have poor health literacy, meaning a lot of communication disability goes undiagnosed or people don’t know where to seek help.

People with low health literacy rates are at higher risk of poor health outcomes.

Many residents in aged care facilities have difficulty communicating for a range of reasons, children with communication disability are more likely to be suspended from school, and many people in juvenile and adult justice settings have a communication disorder.

Intervention is required to drive improvement on health illiteracy, and to spotlight associated injustices.

Kittel says people who can’t communicate, who can’t understand information, or who can’t structure coherent arguments, are ultimately at risk of being overlooked, and not having their rights respected.

“Success within entire systems including health, education, and justice, rely on the ability to communicate effectively,” he says.

“When people can access information, they are in control. They can make informed choices and ask questions.

“We recognise that it’s important to be able to read and understand text, but we also need to recognise that being able to listen and speak is just as vital. And for 1.2 million Australians, this is not something that is easy to do.”

The UN General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on December 16, 1966.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights around the freedoms of opinion and expression states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.” (UN 1948)

Article 19 also recognises a person’s right to communicate as they interact with people in daily life to enhance equality, justice and human dignity.

Article 21 of the convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN 2006) focuses on the communication rights and incorporates important guidance formats for supporting people with different types of disabilities.

By shaping the future today, paving the path for the rights of people with communication disability, disadvantage can be addressed, so that everyone is heard and understood.

In 1949 Speech Pathology Australia opened its doors and is now the national peak body for the speech pathology profession.

This year it proudly celebrates 70 years of service and support, particularly in ensuring that communication is everyone’s right.

Speech Pathology Australia continues to support the Australian community by creating awareness about communication disability and advocating for a fairer society.

For more information and details on Speech Pathology week, click here.

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