Blog: Mentioning stammering on a UCAS form
We look at a recent case for our Advocacy Service about possible discrimination at a uni admission interview, and what we can learn from it.
At the end of last year we set up the STAMMA Advocacy Service for anyone who feels as though they've been treated unfairly because they stammer. We were contacted recently by Dan, who got in touch with the service to complain about an interview he'd had with one of the universities he'd applied to.
You can read Dan's story in his own words, in his Your Voice article. But here's a summary.
Dan is fairly comfortable with his stammer and it doesn't usually prevent him from saying what he wants to say. When filling out the UCAS application form, it asked whether Dan had any disabilities. Stammering just didn't fit well into the disability categories listed on the form and Dan didn't regard his stammer as a disability so ticked the 'No disability' box. He did, however, mention that he stammers in another section of the form, when talking about his work mentoring other students.
When Dan logged in for the online interview with this particular university, they accidentally left him alone in a virtual waiting room for a long time. The start time for his interview came and went, and as minutes continued to tick by, Dan became increasingly worried and stressed that he'd missed it. Eventually he logged out and logged back in to the session, where he spoke to a member of technical staff who apologised for the error.
He went on to have his interview, but felt anxious and flustered as a result of the long, stressful wait. Dan felt he stammered more than usual as a result, and that coping with this meant it was more difficult for him to respond fully to the interview questions and to say what he wanted to say.
Dan complained to the university afterwards, highlighting the impact of that long and anxious wait. He pointed out that the university had a legal duty under the Equality Act to make sure they weren't putting students who stammer at a disadvantage. If you're not familiar with it, the Act is a piece of law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination. See Is Stammering A Disability? to read more.
The university's response? They stated they did not know before the interview that Dan stammered, so could not have made adjustments to the process. When Dan pointed out that he'd mentioned it on his application form, the university said that they thought he was describing one of the students he had mentored and not himself.
What can we learn from Dan's experiences?
The value of letting organisations know that you stammer
Whether or not you see yourself as 'disabled', many people find that stammering has a negative impact or restricts them in some situations more than others. This may often be to do with the way the situation is set up and the responses of others, as well as our own reactions and concerns about stammering.
Dan didn't think that stammering was going to be a challenge for him in the interview. However, he couldn't possibly have predicted that he would be abandoned in a virtual waiting room on the day, how this would make him feel and the impact this would have on his ability to express himself during the interview.
By selecting 'No disability' and then mentioning stammering only in a very subtle way on the form, Dan had unintentionally removed a legal responsibility from the university to take account of his stammer within the interview process.
So, letting organisations (including universities) know that you stammer, can be helpful because it places a legal duty on them to think about their procedures and whether their ways of working are making things harder for you.
There are lots of ways you can let universities know that you stammer during the application process and you can do one or more of them:
- Tick the 'disability' box on the form.
- Clearly write 'I stammer' or 'I have a stammer' at some other place on the form.
- If you're offered an interview, email the organisation informing them that you stammer. That way, they have the information in writing.
What adjustments might be useful
If you already know that you find interviews hard due to stammering, do let STAMMA know by contacting our Employment Service. We can help you think through what adjustments would be useful for you during interviews and work out how to get these agreed by organisations in advance.
The wording of questions on application forms
The disability categories listed on the university application form were definitely a barrier here, as stammering doesn't fit neatly into any of them. This means that students don't currently have a clear route to letting universities know that they stammer. Here at STAMMA we're going to discuss this with UCAS to see if changes can be made to the wording of the form for the future.
Contact the STAMMA Advocacy Service as soon as you can if you feel that you've been treated poorly or unfairly because you stammer. If Dan had wished to, it might have been possible to build a legal challenge to the university. However, there are strict legal time limits for such challenges, so by the time we were aware of the situation, there wasn't enough time left for us to seriously explore that option.
Hearing about incidents as early as possible means our Advocacy Service can explore the options for challenging organisations who seem to have treated people who stammer unfairly, and let you know what those options are.
A bit of good news — Dan has been accepted at another university, so we wish him every success in his studies!