International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Poster with different terms for people who don't speak

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.

UN Logo for international Day of Persons with disabilities, nested red, blue, green, and orange circles with the date.

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.

Covid-19 Medical Communication Board

Vienna Declaration and Program of Action

ASHA Article on Covid-19 and Communication

Communication Rights toolkit by Communication First

Emergency Preparation During the Pandemic

Not Nonverbal.jpeg

Poster Link

Not just nonverbal poster with names of other labels, including multimodal communicator, minimally verbal, non-speaking, & non-vocal AAC user.

High Contrast Poster Link














Kathryn Helland

Kathryn is a certified speech-language pathologist and works with children and adults with complex communication needs. She has been with the TechOWL team since 2015 and is currently working on her doctorate. She would like to examine how to best support AAC users in higher education.

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