Today marks the 28th International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The United Nations’ work in this area is predicated on the idea that “all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated ” (Vienna Declaration, 1993). None of this can hope to be realized if the world doesn’t actively listen to people with disabilities. And this must include those who are not able to speak.
Such people are often labeled “nonverbal”. However, the definition of this term includes “not using words”. When we refer to people as nonverbal, do we risk framing this population as one that does not use words to think, consider, and feel? Does this make it easier to exclude these people from important decisions?
As our nation’s healthcare system fights Covid-19, we need to ensure that people are not excluded from treatment on the basis of their disabilities. Those who are hospitalized need access to patient provider communication. People who use AAC must maintain access to their communication systems. Communication is a basic human right.
We need to put the words of the Vienna Declaration into practice. The right to communication is indivisible from other human rights. AAC users have a lot to say. We need to listen.