The Equality Act 2010 can potentially have significant implications for people who stammer, whether at school, at work or using services.
The Equality Act 2010
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 the person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'. 'Substantial' means 'more than minor or trivial'.
Nearly all adult stammering is 'long-term', meaning broadly at least a year. Accordingly, a person who stammers should normally be covered by the Equality Act if the stammer has more than a minor or trivial effect on normal day-to-day activities.
Obvious examples of 'normal day-to-day activities' could be having a conversation, or using the telephone. Also, the courts have interpreted 'normal day-to-day activities' much more widely than one would expect, for example to include a high pressure exam for promotion. The tribunal focuses on what the person cannot do or has difficulty with, rather than balancing what they can and cannot do.
If you stammer
Whether you consider yourself disabled by your stammer or not is entirely up to you. 'Disability' in the Equality Act is a legal concept. It is a matter of whether you fulfil a particular legal definition. You do not need to register as disabled, or regard yourself as disabled within the wider sense.
It may be other peoples' attitudes which are disabling, for example attitudes of employers who fail to look past the stammer. An example may be where a job applicant is turned down due to generalised, or stereotypical assumptions about stammering, rather than the employer considering that person's abilities.
If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your stammer, then download our 'Stammering, Discrimination & the Law' (pdf). This is pretty dry, but use it as a starting point when thinking about getting legal advice.
We would urge anyone going to an employment tribunal in relation to discrimination because of your stammer to ensure that you get a report from a qualified speech & language therapist. This report should include information on the impact and consequences of your stammer on your work. We're happy to chat with you and the therapist about the report and what might be useful to include. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Further, we urge you to seek legal advice and work with us to prepare the evidence needed to show that the impact of the stammer is lifelong and how it is affected by their working environment. This way, future judgements can reflect the reality of the lives of people who stammer.
See our page on Bullying at Work too.
If your employee, service user or someone you know stammers
How much stammering someone experiences or how intense their moments of stammering are can vary over time or from situation to situation. Some people may also be working hard to hide their stammering, for example by speaking less or by switching words. For these reasons, you can't necessarily tell by talking with someone, that they have a stammer. You also can't tell to what extent stammering or the reactions of others are interfering with the person's day to day activities. So, if you need to know, ask them.
- Read about the New guidance on stammering for judges. The latest edition of the Equal Treatment Bench Book features a guide for helping to make things easier for people who stammer at courts and tribunals. The Bench Book is circulated among all judges in the UK legal system.
Download our responses to recent cases in which people have claimed discrimination on the grounds of their stammer. Click on the links below to read more.
Mr N Neto v Packaging Automation Ltd & J Thompson (2021) (Word)
In this case the Judge ruled that Mr Neto had not been discriminated against because he didn't demonstrate that his stammer had a substantial adverse impact on his work.
Visit the website stammeringlaw.org.uk for a wealth of information on stammering and UK disability discrimination law.
Work Choice: A government website which includes help to get and keep a job if one is disabled.
Equality Advisory and Support Service: Provides information, advice and support on discrimination issues. It replaces the Equality and Human Rights Commission helpline.
The Disability Law Service: May be able to provide free legal advice to disabled people and representation where appropriate.
Citizens Advice: They can help you negotiate with an employer and may in some cases be able to represent you at a hearing.
Law Centres Network: Their solicitors may provide you with free advice and representation.
Law Centres Federation: Call them on 020 7842 0720. Their postal address is: PO Box 65836, London EC4P 4FX.