Why Freedom of Expression is so Important to Me

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The right to freedom of expression is so important to me and my well-being because otherwise it is all too easy for my needs to be forgotten or ignored, especially where people don’t fit the ‘norm’. As a person with an invisible disability, it’s really hard to overcome society’s inbuilt ideas of what my place is. Similarly, internalised ableism can mean that lots of people struggle to value their own opinions enough to share and be proud of them. Getting involved in a community who are open to sharing opinions can help you to overcome this and it’s really empowering. It’s so wholesome to be able to share your opinions with people that know they won’t always understand. To have your voice heard and actually respected is so life-affirming. 

As per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, I face double discrimination as a female with a disability. This means that, if the UK ever brings this Convention into domestic law, I, and others like me, will essentially be doubly protected against threats to my human rights. This is so that those who are more susceptible to discrimination can be free to continue to express themselves, so that their voices are not lost. This extra protection is important to get one step closer to achieving equity in society. Equality can be seen as things being made the same for people regardless of situation. Equity can be seen as barriers being removed so that everyone can access the same rights/experiences etc.

Rights to freedom of expression or freedom of speech allow people from all sectors of society to be themselves which is so integral for individual well-being. I do think that rights to express yourself should be qualified i.e. if your opinion/action actively hurts someone or discriminates against someone then you should lose your right to express that opinion freely. If these rights were unqualified, hurtful and discriminatory practices would be allowed to continue for the sheer stubbornness of upholding human rights above all else. This cannot realistically happen. There needs to be balance across individuals’ rights so that our society is as fair and equal as it can be.

Living in an open society like this, I am able to write about how important this human right is to me without fear of major consequences and that’s something that I do not take for granted. It’s especially important that those from underrepresented groups feel empowered to share their stories and opinions. This is an important way of finding yourself and your identity in an increasingly stressful world.

But in order for this to happen, there must be a societal trend of non-judgement and respect for others, no matter how they identify or what they believe in. This trend is already in motion among some sub-groups in society, where you can safely talk about the personal characteristics that make you you. We as students are perfectly placed to take advantage of this trend and push it further – reach out to people and let them know you’re a safe person to talk to. Join local groups and societies so that you can find people to share your ideas with and be comfortable expressing yourself. Don’t let these opportunities to find yourself disappear.

If you don’t know what your human rights are, go read a summary of the Human Rights Act 1998 or the European Convention on Human Rights. You might even be surprised by what’s in there and what isn’t. But most of all, educate yourself so you know where you stand on freedom of expression. 

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I am the Disabilities Officer for SUSU. I am very passionate about student representation, self-advocacy for people with disabilities and the removal of barriers to equality in society.

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