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Access. Opportunity. Justice.

Advances in technology, understanding of the power of human potential, and wider appreciation for the differences between speech and language have transformed the world of possibility for nonspeaking children and adults and others who cannot rely on speech alone to be understood. Despite these transformative developments, the 5 million people in the United States with speech-related communication disabilities and conditions continue to face low expectations, outright prejudice, and isolation. We have the highest rates of segregation, restraint, seclusion, and abuse of any demographic group.

Those of us who cannot rely primarily on speech to be understood are the first to be separated and segregated from people without disabilities, the first to be denied access to meaningful educational, recreational, and employment opportunities, and the first to be institutionalized.

We are also far more likely to be denied access to effective communication tools and supports than our friends who have hearing- and vision-related communication disabilities.

Our membership largely has been left out of the gains and successes enjoyed by the rest of the disability community over the past two decades. There is a critical need for a disability-led civil rights organization like CommunicationFIRST that is focused on looking out for the rights and interests of people who use and need expressive communication supports and tools, regardless of their disability or condition and regardless of their communication support needs.

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What We Work On

  • Ensuring access to robust expressive communication tools, supports, and accommodations in all life and community settings, including educational, recreational, residential, employment, judicial, criminal justice, and voting
  • Reducing barriers and ensuring equal opportunity to meaningfully participate and be involved in all aspects of life and community
  • Improving the early identification and intervention framework, to ensure every child begins kindergarten with robust, effective, language-based communication tools
  • Reducing vulnerability, preventing abuse, and ensuring physical safety and bodily autonomy, including by minimizing segregation and eliminating abusive restraint and seclusion practices
  • Advancing understanding of mental health and trauma issues faced nearly universally by nonspeaking people
  • Improving access to health care and informed consent practices
  • Improving self-determination and issues surrounding supported decision-making, guardianship, and conservatorship practices
  • Ensuring nonspeaking individuals are included and supported in Olmstead de-institutionalization efforts
  • Advancing policy change more broadly with by improving available national-level data and statistics about our membership and its needs

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How We Achieve Our Goals

  • Sharing our stories to improve public acceptance and understanding of our diversity, our needs, and the importance of communication, and to correct common misperceptions about our abilities and potential
  • Working in coalitions to support and advance policies and practices that will positively impact our membership
  • Submitting public comments on proposed policies, legislation, regulations, and guidelines
  • Sharing advocacy toolkits and resources about rights, statutes, regulations, policies, and practices in various contexts
  • Providing training on disability rights and advocacy for our membership, family members, allies, and attorneys
  • Bringing impact litigation on behalf of our members on communication rights and related issues
  • Supporting other litigation efforts involving communication rights or nonspeaking individuals, including as a party, consultant, expert, or amicus curiae