RENO, Nevada — People use communication every day to learn, work and socialize with each other, making speech-language therapy a necessary service. Suppose a person struggles with communication, whether it is a child born with a speech-sound disorder or an adult who acquired a language disorder later in life, they can use speech-language therapy to make their day-to-day lives easier.
Providing speech-language therapy to low-income communities is vital as these services can help give them skills to better access education, employment and emotional and mental well-being. Moreover, if those in need of speech-language therapy do not receive help, there is a higher possibility that they remain stuck in the vicious poverty cycle.
Communication Disorders, Speech-Language Therapy and Poverty
There are many different reasons why those living in poverty are at a higher risk of having communication disorders. These can include parents not being at home as often to respond to a child’s developing language or a person having fewer opportunities to practice and learn a language, such as in social places with other children. Impoverished families may also have to take jobs with dangerous working conditions with a high risk of work accidents, including brain injuries. Moreover, many communication disorders are secondary effects to other health conditions, such as a communication disorder resulting from having hearing problems, a speech disorder from having a cleft lip or acquiring a language processing disorder after having a stroke.
Poverty also plays a significant barrier to accessing treatment. Impoverished families may have fewer chances to catch and treat a communication disorder early because they have fewer opportunities for others to recognize a problem. For many cases, especially for children, a disorder may not be obvious until they interact with others or are in social settings like school. The longer a communication disorder is not treated, the more likely it will become aggravated and become harder to treat over time. If it is recognized, poverty can still prevent treatment due to the cost of treatment or a lack of access. For example, many people with communication disorders living in rural areas often have no speech-language services nearby, even if speech-language services increase in their country’s cities.
The Need for Speech-Language Therapy
Speech-language pathology is a relatively new field (only becoming more established and prevalent after WWII), meaning that close to 75% of the world either have little or no access to speech-language services. Often, countries that are starting to offer these services do not have enough speech therapists available. As such, those struggling with speech and communication may have to rely on others — such as family members, nurses, or teachers — to administer the therapy. While an improvement, this can add strain to professionals, as they have to balance many responsibilities all at once.
Hope for Speech-Language Therapy and Poverty
With the demand for speech-language therapy being realized, many therapists and associations are working hard to provide speech-language services worldwide. Today, nearly 61 countries have communication disorder associations, with the majority also having secondary educational programs to train more therapists. These associations can ensure speech, language and communication therapists receive the resources they need to ensure that they can meet their country’s communication service needs.
More and more therapists from the western world also desire to work internationally and help in developing countries. Although therapy services have yet to be implemented worldwide, there are many programs aimed at training therapists to work within their native country. In addition, more speech-language therapy programs are also starting to offer international training for therapists. Today, more than 20 international communication disorder programs can help therapists be certified to work in other countries.
There have also been movements to provide speech-language services online through platforms like Global Therapy and Worldwide Speech. These programs give another level of access as therapists trained in developed countries do not have to leave their country to provide therapy abroad to those in need. These online platforms also mean that patients do not have to travel as far to receive these services. While there is still much more to do, therapists and associations are continuously working to address speech-language therapy and its relation to poverty around the world.
– Mikayla Burton