Monday 24 March 2008

Freedom of speech

A recent news report in the Education section of BBC News, on speech therapy (Speech problems 'need attention') got me thinking. As a follower of the social model of disability, and as someone with speech disabilities myself, I think speech disabilities are probably one of the most obvious examples of a disability where the social implications massively outweigh the medical implications. So, although I think there should be free speech therapy for those who actually want it, I also think that social change would benefit people with speech disabilities far more than any amount of medical intervention.

Speech disabilities, however caused, are one of the most obvious disabilities and therefore the hardest to hide away - hence people with speech disabilities are often the butt of prejudice and discrimination (see my article on speech disabilities on the Red Disability website). Yet, as with all disabilities, the oppression of people with speech disabilities has nothing to do with 'human nature' (as often asserted) but is caused by the capitalist system (see Red Disability's Roots of disability oppression aticle).

As for why speech disabilities are currently being targeted by the Establishment as something which needs to be 'cured', I suspect this may be to do with the shift in UK employment from manufacturing work to service industries such as catering, office work, call centres etc. Disability, far from being 'given by nature', is largely defined by the contemporary needs of capitalist labour (see Red Disability's Changing face of disability article)

At the same time, it is not only speech disabilities which can result in speech-related oppression. The Establishment has always had a problem with slang, especially youth slang, citing it as a barrier to effective communication (which is rather hypocritical when you realise that official documents, forms included, are often written in inaccessible language!). Then there's the xenophobic carp (typo) about how immigrants should learn to speak English, as part of the promotion of a (artificial and alienated) 'Britishness' which is currently being promoted by the Establishment. Even within the UK, regional dialects and - even more importantly - perceived 'class differences' in speech, often carry negative implications within this capitalist society.

All these prejudices are not just oppressive to individuals, they lead to a more oppressive, 'cloning', society. Instead of trying to make individuals (with disabilities or otherwise) fit into the strait jacket of capitalist society, we need to fight for a more tolerant, more diverse, less oppressive, socialist society.

No comments: