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A young woman at a counter in a shop and smiling while using her phone to pay via a card reader held by somebody off screen.
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Orla

Creating Stammer-friendly Spaces

Tips for making your organisation or service inclusive for people who stammer.

*We also have a Training Service to help you build stammer-friendly spaces.

People who stammer, also known as stuttering, meet challenging situations on a daily basis. Having to speak in hospitality and service settings might not worry fluent speakers. But if you stammer these situations can cause real dread and anxiety.

Difficult situations can include:

  • announcing yourself at a reception desk
  • phoning to make a booking or an appointment
  • ordering food at a café or restaurant
  • having to say your name so a barista can write it on a coffee cup
  • going through an identification process when calling your bank or insurance company 
  • asking for a ticket
  • asking for directions or where the toilets are
  • raising a query
  • speaking on intercoms at entry doors
  • using telephone voice recognition systems.

These day-to-day things just weren't designed with people who stammer in mind. The challenges can make someone who stammers worry intensely about being laughed at or hung up on. They can prevent people from getting through voice recognition processes successfully. As a result, many people might avoid these situations altogether.

Here's a guide for giving people who stammer a positive experience.

Recognising stammering

Many people might not realise when someone is stammering. It's not always when a person repeats sounds, like “H-h-h-h-h…”. Someone who stammers might struggle simply to get any sounds out at all. They might have silent pauses and appear tense as they work hard to get the sound out. Or they might spend time trying to find different ways to say something to work around the stammer.

If someone does this and you don't know what's going on, it can feel uncomfortable. Your reaction can make all the difference to the person who stammers.

Stammering can vary from day to day, situation to situation and from person to person. So, someone might stammer on one occasion but not on another.

Learn what stammering looks and sound like so that you know what's happening. Our page What Is Stammering? has more information on this.

Tips

There are lots of things you can do to help give someone who stammers a positive experience. Here are some tips for different scenarios.

Face-to-face conversations

If you work on a front desk or till, or if you regularly speak to the general public in your job:

  • Let the person finish what they want to say without interrupting or speaking over them.
  • Don't try to finish off their sentences or words for them. 
  • Just listen and wait for them to finish. 
  • Try and keep natural eye contact. 
  • Try not to be distressed if someone is stammering. Try not to look uncomfortable as this is likely to make the person feel anxious or under pressure.

See In Conversation With Someone Who Stammers for more tips. You can also download our 'Guidelines for talking about stammering' below.

You may notice that some people have to work very hard to say their name. This is a common experience for many who stammer. If that happens, don't jokingly ask if they've forgotten their name. Instead, remain patient and don’t rush them.

Phone interactions

Tips if you regularly answer calls from customers or work in a call centre:

  • If you're answering a phone and the caller is silent, don't immediately assume that it's a bad line or a prank call. It could be someone who stammers and who is working hard to speak. Make sure you give them time.
  • Be patient. Let people speak. Don't interrupt, rush or talk over them.

Restaurants

Some people who stammer end up ordering something they can say rather than something they actually want. Particularly if they feel under time pressure.

  • It's not always easy to tell that someone stammers just by looking at them. Even when you're busy, try not to show that urgency to your customers. Instead, give them time to say what they want without added time pressure.

Coffee shops

  • If you need a name to write on a cup, offer all your customers the choice to either write it down or say it.
  • Speaking when there's an audience can be really challenging for some people who stammer. Standing in a queue with others listening in can make them really anxious about giving their order. Arrange your queueing system so that there's some space between the person ordering and the next person in the queue.

Phone systems

  • If you use voice recognition software, make sure there's an early 'escape route' in the system. Allow customers and service users who stammer to be transferred to a human early in the process. Don't force them to 'fail' at the voice recognition process first. It can be incredibly demoralising and stressful.
  • If you pick up the phone and there's silence, don't automatically assume there's a bad line or that it's a prank call. Have a clear process for dealing with these calls. Create one that accommodates the possibility that silent callers might be someone who stammers.
  • Give the caller time to say what they want to say.
  • If someone hesitates when giving personal details it might be because they stammer. Consider this possibility rather than assume they're uncertain or being dishonest.

Listen to STAMMA volunteer Lyndsay talking about what to do when speaking with a caller who stammers, on Money Advice Trust's podcast. 

Intercoms

  • If you have an intercom, does it have a camera on it? This can be preferable as it allows you to see if someone is working hard to speak.
  • Allow people time to say what they want to say instead of rushing or speaking over them.

How STAMMA can help

Access our Training Service to help you build inclusive procedures that welcome customers and service users who stammer.

If you would like to discuss guidance and support for your business or service, please don't hesitate to get in touch. Email employmentsupport@stamma.org or call our Helpline on 0808 802 0002 and ask someone from the Employment Support Service to contact you.

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Tayo & Bhupinder
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A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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