Merit, Speech Disability and Discrimination

Philip Leith


There is a substantial body of evidence – going back over decades – which indicates that the employment sphere is difficult for those who suffer a speech disability. To a large extent, I argue, this is due to the setting of merit in terms of orality and aesthetic. It also relates to the low perception of competence of the speech disabled. I argue that to be effective against discrimination the notion of merit and its assessment requires focus. ‘Merit’ as a concept in discrimination law has had its critics, yet it remains important to investigate it as social construct in order to help understand discrimination and how to counter this. For example, in this article I look at an instance where the resetting of what was viewed as ‘meritorious’ in judicial recruitment successfully improved the diversity in lower judicial posts.

Further, given the relative failure of the employment tribunal system to improve the general position of those who are disabled, I look to alternative methods of countering disability discrimination.  The suggestion provided is that an enforced ombudsman type approach capable of dealing with what may be the core issue around employment discrimination (‘merit’) would provide a better mechanism for handling the general situation of disability discrimination than the tribunal system.

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