For a few moments, try to imagine what it would be like to know exactly what you want to say, but be unable to express it. There may be any number of reasons why you can't express yourself. Maybe nothing comes out, maybe the words come out slowly or stuttered, maybe the wrong words come out, maybe the words come out in the wrong order, or maybe the right words come out in the right order but they are slurred or otherwise unclear. These kinds of difficulties fall under the expressive side of communication.
Of course, the ability to express yourself is just one side of the communication coin. On the flip-side, imagine knowing that someone is speaking to you but being unable to follow, understand, or make-out what they are saying to you.
As you imagine what this would be like, make sure to consider how it would impact your day-to-day life. Imagine how people who do and do not know you might respond. How do you think you might feel having what you want to say trapped inside of you? Frustrated for sure, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Trying to express yourself when you have a communication difficulty can be exhausting, even if you are able to use other means such as writing or gesturing. For many reasons, effort included, communication difficulties can also be incredibly isolating. Couple that with the fact that, in many places around the world, support for people with communication difficulties is extremely limited.
The communication difficulties that I am describing show no bias for age - they affect people of all ages from children who are having difficulties learning to talk to adults who have lost their ability to communicate from injuries such as a stroke. I've worked with both adults and children and I've seen the expressions on their faces as they struggle to get their messages across. I've also seen the joy on their faces when they successfully get their message across. This is why I do what I do and this is why I am so excited about the International Communication Project 2014 (ICP2014).
The official ICP2014 website has launched earlier this year and, if you haven't already, I encourage you to check it out and to sign the pledge stating you support that the opportunity to communicate is a basic human right.
Now, after the exercise above, you might be thinking, 'Wait! Surely communication is already considered a basic human right?' No, sadly, communication is not currently included in The Declaration of Human Rights.
Isn't it crazy to think that something so vital to our quality of life is not considered a basic human right? Wouldn't it be wonderful if, as a result of the International Communication Project 2014, the opportunity to communicate is added to The Declaration of Human Rights? Maybe this would have an impact on how speech-language services are valued in our healthcare and educational systems and maybe it would increase access to services for those who struggle with communication.
Maybe, if nothing else, this campaign will increase the profile of communication difficulties and that, in and of itself, would be a start. I think one of the biggest issues is that many people have no concept of the wide scope of difficulties that a speech-language pathologist can help with or the wide range of communications difficulties that can exist. I don't know how many times my colleagues and I have told someone what we do only to realize, by their response, how little the public understands of what we do (this raises another issue entirely, but let's just say I am very excited about the Speech & Hearing Awareness campaign that BCASLPA has planned for 2014).
For instance the other day I heard of an SLP manager (in another part of the country) who, in an effort to express the importance of speech-language therapy, said something along the lines of, "yes, having articulate children is very important". Apparently, it would seem, she has some inclination that articulation is one of the areas that we work on. And I suppose that "being articulate" could be considered to be part of the end result of what SLPs are trying to achieve with some children, but it also highlights the simplistic view that others hold of our profession. And if our managers don't even know what we do, then how can we expect them to support us when it comes to advocating for increased services for the public?
I'm still holding out hope that the International Communication Project will result in a change to The Declaration of Human Rights (an SLP can dream, right?). For that to happen, this campaign will need to get a tremendous amount of support worldwide. I am thrilled to see that organizations from around the world have partnered together for this project and I will be following with keen interest to see what comes of it.
For January, and the start of 2014, I decided to feature The Universal Declaration of Communication Rights pledge from the International Communication Project 2014 on the speech department bulletin board at work.
Here are some ways that you can connect with, follow, or show your support for the International Communication Project 2014:
- Visit their website
- Sign AND SHARE the pledge
- Follow @ICP2014 and the #ICP2014 hashtag on Twitter
- Subscribe to the YouTube Channel
- Add a Twibbon to your Facebook or Twitter profile picture
- Write a letter or email to an elected official in your area and encourage them to support this project
- Tell everyone you know about this project and discuss the fact that communication is not currently considered a basic human right
- Keep the conversation going!