Sustainability in Speech and Language Therapy

Kerry Cavanagh
Kerry Cavanagh • 2 December 2023

The Undergraduate Research Opportunity Programme at the University of Reading is an opportunity for undergraduates to get involved with research alongside academic researchers. I was fortunate to be selected to work on this project over the Summer of 2023. In this blog, I want to share the key findings from this project.  

As part of this project, we examined literature by conducting a review of the literature discussing sustainability in Speech and Language Therapy. We focused on considering how sustainability is impacting SLT and identifying future research relevant to the profession.

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals were used as a framework for analysing the articles that met the inclusion criteria. The Sustainable Development Goals are ‘a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere’ (United Nations Sustainable Development, 2015). My review highlighted the following key findings for the Speech and Language Therapy profession.

Based on the Sustainable Development Goals, it was recognised that Climate change is recognised as one of the biggest threats humanity is facing this century (World Health Organisation, n.d.) with increased temperature and changing weather conditions increasing the rate of infectious and non-infectious disease. This will increase demand for all health services and disproportionately impact the most vulnerable people in society including those with communication and swallowing disorders.

Extreme weather conditions globally will force displacement leading to an environmental refugee crisis. This will further increase the demand for health services. Speech and Language Therapists will need to have the ability to treat people from all demographics.

Poverty will be a growing concern as climate change causes food insecurity, lower labour productivity and displacement. Links between living in poverty and speech and language development are well documented (Perkins, 2013). Therefore, an increase in poverty level could create further demand for Speech and Language Therapy services.

With the effects of climate change already being seen globally, it must be considered how people with communication and swallowing needs are met in times of crisis. Public health communication such as evacuation protocols, emergency supplies and safety information must be accessible to those with communication disabilities. Evacuation procedures must consider the mobility, medical and communication needs of disabled people.

This highlights the critical importance of meeting the Paris Agreement climate targets and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. However, research is also needed into how to provide a Speech and Language Therapy service that is climate change resilient and can meet the increased demand for services.  Addressing sustainability directly in the curriculum and professional guidelines would support Speech and Language Therapists in meeting sustainability-related targets and becoming aware of the changing scope of practice.

Before undertaking this project, I was a keen environmentalist driven to reduce my use of resources, and carbon emissions. This project has highlighted to me the broader scope involved in sustainability. Having this opportunity as a student means I can enter the field with the knowledge and passion needed to encourage systemic change.

Written by Kerry Cavanagh, third-year MSci Speech and Language Therapy student at the University of Reading. Supervised by Dr Milly Heelan, Dr Vishnu Nair, and Dr Emma Pagnamenta.

This project was funded by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities programme at the University of Reading and managed by Careers.

A poster outlining the research project


Perkins, S. C. (2013). Poverty and Language Development: Roles of Parenting and Stress. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, 10(4), 10.

United Nations Sustainable Development. (2015). The Sustainable Development Agenda -.

World Health Organisation. (n.d.). Climate change. Retrieved 22 June 2023, from

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