Learn about the movement that celebrates stammering and pushes back against the stigma.
"Stuttering pride is a belief that stuttering voices are valid and important. It is a hope for a future in which people who stutter are respected and included. It is a movement to create this change and celebrate stuttering culture."
The experience of having a stammer can leave many people feeling ashamed of the way they speak. Years of being mocked for it, even discriminated against, tends to have that effect.
Historically, speaking fluently has been seen as the 'right' way of speaking. In TV, films and books, people who stammer have been portrayed as less intelligent, nervous, incompetent or devious. What message does this give? That people who stammer are doing something wrong?
Stammering Pride, or Stuttering Pride, is a growing movement in the community that aims to change that view. Instead of feeling shame, it encourages people to take pride in the way they speak. To see stammering as just a different way of talking, rather than a less valuable one.
So where did it all start?
Origins: Medical v Social Model
Stammering Pride as a concept has its roots in the 1960s and 70s. Around that time, voices demanding better rights for people with disabilities were getting louder. (If you're wondering 'Is Stammering A Disability?', read that page to find out.)
Enter disabled academic Mike Oliver. In 1983, Oliver came up with a radical new way of looking at disability. Up until then, a person's disability was typically seen as 'their problem'. It was their responsibility to change or 'fix it' if they wanted to take part in society. This view is known as the 'Medical Model of Disability'.
Stuttering pride is a belief that stuttering voices are valid and important.
Oliver, however, argued that people aren't disabled by their conditions. Instead, they're disabled by an intolerant society. One that doesn't accommodate them and discriminates against them. He called this the 'Social Model of Disability'. His model sees disability as a fault of society, not the person themselves. He said if we can remove the barriers making situations more difficult for someone, we can create a more equal society.
"What right does society have to expect fluent speech from us when we are not able? What happens if we start to reject this value and demand on fluent speech? What if, rather than hiding our stammer to appease society's demands we fight for our right to stammer?" (Read Patrick Campbell's article)
The Social Model started to make some people who stammer think differently. It paved the way for them to question the traditional views of stammering. Many have said that despite the difficulties, stammering has had a positive impact on their lives. Some say it's made them more understanding of others and made them great listeners. That it's influenced them creatively, increased their vocabulary and made them excellent writers. For others it has made them more determined and resilient by not letting it get in the way of their goals.
"I truly believe that my stammer makes me a better leader. It has given me empathy, allowing me to be a supportive leader and collaborator. Plus, the more I challenge myself, the more confident I become at taking on challenges. Stammering has given me the determination to do this." (Read Hamish's article)
The movement gained traction in the UK with the release of the 2019 book 'Stammering Pride & Prejudice: Difference not Defect'. It's a collection of pieces from people who stammer that challenge negative stereotypes. (Edited by Patrick Campbell, Sam Simpson and Chris Constantino.) The book champions this emerging narrative that disfluency isn't a flaw, a mutation or a disorder. Rather, it's a natural variation in how some people talk, and something to value.
Increasingly, people have been inspired to champion stammering. Artists like Alda Villiljós, Sigríður Fossberg Thorlacius, Sveinn Snær Kristjánsson celebrate the stammered voice. With their project 'The Stammering Aesthetic' they capture the moment of stammering in a series of beautiful portrait photographs. Villiljós said, "showing these unique expressions is an important step towards normalising them, and towards promoting awareness about stuttering".
Noticing a lack of positive portrayals in art throughout history, Cambridge artist Paul Aston decided to create his own. His oil paintings aim to capture the moment of stammering in a series of rich and detailed portraits. Paul took part in 'A Celebration of Stammering & the Arts' in 2021. This online event connected artists, comedians, cartoonists, movie producers, documentary makers and more.
The musician JJJJJerome Ellis explores stammering in his music. Pitchfork described his album The Clearing as "both a theoretical investigation and a piece of resistance art in itself, pushing back against societal expectations of performative fluency".
In 2022, the Stammering Pride flag (see the picture above) was introduced to the world. It was designed by Conor Foran in collaboration with a wider team of people who stammer. The flag features a wave pattern that symbolises the natural variation in stammering. Read more at stutteringprideflag.org
Where does it leave speech & language Therapy?
The Social Model has sparked a wider debate on the role of speech & language therapy for people who stammer. Historically, therapy prioritised helping someone 'stop stammering' or be more fluent. Some argue that what may seem helpful can create feelings of shame. That it reinforces a stigma of stammering. Some ask: is therapy teaching people that the way they speak should be corrected? If someone continues to stammer having had therapy, have they 'failed' in some way?
"People deserve a choice about whether or not they would like to reduce or remove their stutter. True choice can't exist when the imperative to 'treat' voices is taken for granted, and when our society continues to discriminate against stuttered speech..." DidIStutter.org
Understanding this has led therapists to aim to provide a more holistic view to therapy. To take an approach which doesn't just consider how fluent someone is. But to also address their mental wellbeing and confidence to express themselves.
In response, speech & language therapist (SLT) Stephanie Burgess wrote an article for our site. In it, she says that therapists need to remember "...it's not the stammer we're trying to fix or get rid of. It's the struggle, tension and negative baggage which can accompany it". She also highlights the importance of talking about acceptance as part of therapy. Not just with the person who stammers, but also those around them, eg parents and teachers.
The debate about balancing more traditional therapy techniques with acceptance goes on.
What is STAMMA's position?
We know that thanks to the growing Stammering Pride movement, more and more people feel comfortable stammering openly. If people can feel good about their stammer, then that's a great thing. We also know that it's not always easy to think like that. It can be a real physical struggle to talk. Not aways being able to express yourself in the way you want can be incredibly frustrating.
At STAMMA, we want to create a world that makes space for stammering. Our campaigns have centred around bringing a greater awareness and acceptance of stammered voices and celebrating the stammering community.
We also support people who want therapy for their speech. How someone sees and lives with their stammer is no one's business but theirs. We support SLTs and therapy training courses to learn more about the Social Model so they can provide a holistic approach.
What do STAMMA members say?
"People say they can see nothing in stammering to be proud about. I understand that. For me, the pride is in two things: first, refusing to be ashamed of any disfluency. Second, asserting the right of people who stammer to be treated fairly." (Jack)
"…sometimes I don't feel proud when I can't find the strength to be brave and speak out… Sometimes, I'd rather just be like everyone else. I'd rather just be able to say what I want to say". (Rebecca)
"I will always have my stammer, and I'm finally proud of it. It's made me who I am." (Russell)
"Maybe 'acknowledgement' is a more accurate term than being 'proud' of stammering? Even 'acceptance', i.e. 'this is me and I happen to have a stammer'." (Susan)
"Society will only be changed if it hears and sees stammering as acceptable. This is first of all a challenge that people who stammer must be brave enough to take up themselves… This approach may not work for everyone." (Tim)