Is Stammering a Disability?

A woman sitting and speaking to someone standing next to her

Some people see their stammer as a disability and some don't. What is the legal position?

Some have strong reactions to stammering being labelled as a disability. Regardless of how 'severe' their stammer is, this may not be a disabling issue for them, or they may not wish to be defined as having a disability. For others, their stammering is profoundly disabling.  

The Equality Act 2010 says that a person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment which 'has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'. 

Substantial means anything more than minor or trivial, and long-term means anything lasting longer than a year. Normal activities can mean answering the phone, asking for a coffee or buying a ticket and can also refer to situations such as giving a presentation or attending an interview. Read more about the Equality Act 2010 on our page The Law.

Even if a person's stammer is not obvious, the definition may hold as the person could be using a range of avoidance strategies to hide their stammer. For example, they might not be able to use the phone or contribute in meetings, which are considered day-to-day activities.

Disability or Difference?

We don't expect people to hide their differences, yet many people who stammer feel deeply ashamed of their stammering. 

Is stammering a medical condition which needs 'managing' or is it a difference we need to learn to accept? Is it a disability, something to be 'cured' or medically managed? 

The social model of disability proposes that what makes someone disabled is not their medical condition, but the attitudes and structures of society which leave people with disabilities excluded or restricted in living their lives fully and excludes them from participating fully in society. 

But for many there is a burning need to be 'fluent'. 

We believe this shouldn't be a binary choice. We believe that people should be able to be accepted and respected as they are, but this shouldn’t stop people from finding support and presenting themselves to the world in a way which is comfortable for them. 

We live in a society where we expect people's differences to be accepted. We expect there to be support, reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities to be able to function, and to be accepted for who and how they are. Whether visually impaired or in a wheelchair. A stammer is no different.  

Many people find that controlling a stammer can get in the way of expressing themselves and can be an intolerable and unacceptable strain.

There is no reason why anyone should feel pressure to talk 'fluently'. And indeed for some it is utterly impossible. Expecting someone to mask their difference is no longer acceptable in today's society. So don't accept pressure to talk smoothly. You can ask for reasonable adjustments at work; you should expect services and agencies to be flexible and respectful of your needs; and don't accept bullying, ridicule or exclusion.

Useful link

Visit the website for a wealth of information on stammering and UK disability discrimination law.