August 25th-31st is Speech Pathology Week. The purpose of the week is to promote the profession of speech language pathology as well as bring awareness to the work being done by SLPs in Australia in the area of communication and swallowing disorders. This year’s theme is “Communicating with Confidence”. Although this event is hosted by Speech Pathology Australia, SLPs across the globe can use this week as an opportunity to increase awareness in their workplace and communities about the span of our scope of practice.
Whenever I am asked what I do for a living, I am prepared to receive a look of confusion followed by the legendary question: “What is that?!” I find myself taking a deep breath, standing up tall with pride and reciting a summary of the ASHA definition of Speech-Language Pathologist. This usually increases my communication partner’s confusion about my profession, so they usually summarize it in their own terms by stating, “Oh, so you fix people who stutter.” At this point I am mentally face-palming myself and wanting to say, “I am the person you don’t know you need until you need me.” Instead, I recognize the communication breakdown in the conversation and revise my delivery by providing specific examples of what I do on a daily basis. Finally, I see the lightbulb spark above my communication partner’s head followed by “That’s so cool. Thanks for all you do. We need more people like you.”
I have lost track of the number of times, the above scenario has played out in my daily life as I am sure many SLPs can attest to as well, and we can never grow tired of it. We must continually advocate and spread awareness about our profession and the impact evidence-based practices have on the everyday lives of people in our communities. In Australia alone, there are 1.2 million people with communication disabilities. These disabilities are often invisible and take many forms. This invisibility results in only 38% of those with communication disabilities participating in the workforce.
As speech-language pathologists we possess the knowledge and tools to help people with communication and swallowing disorders function within the workforce and access their basic human right to enjoy a full life. You can spread awareness anywhere and at any time. Be mindful of opportunities presented to educate those around you. It can be as simple as a conversation with the person behind you at Starbucks or in line at the grocery store, preparing a quick presentation to share during faculty meetings, or posting on social media, etc. Use your everyday life to bring awareness and advocate.