Inclusion and Participation for People with Communication Disabilities

Communication is the most fundamental of human capacities.

What is disability?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognises disability as a global public health issue, a human rights issue and a development priority. WHO recognises ‘disability’ as “an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions, denoting the negative aspects of the interaction between an individual (with a health condition) and that individual’s contextual (environmental and personal) factors. Disability is neither simply a biological nor a social phenomenon.” (WHO Global Disability Action Plan 2014–2021.)

Communication disabilities

Although communication is a basic human right, communication difficulties and disorders are not recognised as a disability in many parts of the world. 

Approximately one billion people globally experience disability. However, people with communication disabilities are probably not included in that total, even though they encounter significant difficulties in their daily lives.

Barriers to communication impair an individual’s ability to:

  • relate to and interact with others;
  • understand;
  • learn, share and apply knowledge;
  • achieve and maintain good physical and mental health;
  • participate appropriately and safely in purposeful occupations and/or leisure activities; and
  • have fair access to the justice system and other public services.

Why Is Communication a Basic Human Right?

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.

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. 

Tu Anh