Simon Leve
News Reporter

It’s an issue that affects a significant number of Canadians and people all over the world, and yet it’s seldom discussed in the public sphere.

Communication disabilities affect one in six Canadians, according to Judy Meintzer, president of Speech-Language and Audiology Canada.

This was the driving force behind the International Communications Project 2014, an initiative aimed at shedding light on communication disorders. The ICP was founded by six speech-language organizations of different countries, including SAC.

“We really wanted to look at doing something that was bringing more of a global awareness of the importance of communication as a human right and also the impact of communication disorders on people’s lives,” Meintzer told Humber Et Cetera.

On Feb. 20, ICP hosted an online panel with the intention of raising awareness of communication disorders as a global health issue. The conference featured the heads of the six speech-language organizations of the ICP.

At the panel, Meintzer said, “The most important outcome… is that people have a way to communicate effectively in order to participate in those important activities and roles in their lives.”

According to SAC, the disorder includes issues such as stuttering, motor speech disorders, hearing impairments, neurological impairments, and social communications skills among others.

Dean Sutherland, panelist from the New Zealand Speech Language Therapists’ Association said at the conference that one of the reasons the disorder is ranked so low on the global health radar is because the focus seems to be on the eradication of life and death diseases.

Communication disorders are “quite personal, quite idiosyncratic, and quite different,” he said.

According to MaryJo Morris, Learning Disabilities Consultant/Learning Strategist, “In the school system, including here, speech problems are low on the totem pole because having a speech problem doesn’t mean you can’t learn. Nobody thinks it means you can’t learn.”

“You might have problems doing presentations, but that’s not all there is to postsecondary (education),” she said.

Morris added that it seems there is a double standard at times, especially with regards to speech impediments.

“A speech impairment is not a sensory problem (like hearing impairments), it’s a faculty problem,” she said. “So they figure if you have problems speaking but you’re okay with typing, then go ahead and type… It’s not recognized the same way.”