12th October 2020
Today we've sent out guidelines to the media about how to cover the issue of stammering. We're appealing to them to help us change the language and the assumptions around stammering and create a culture of respect and acceptance.
With International Stammering Awareness Day (ISAD) coming up on 22nd October, we're likely to see a slew of stories in the media. And for the most part interviewers will focus upon one question: "Tell me about how you've overcome your stammer…"
Implicit in this question is that how you talk isn't acceptable.
Don't get me wrong. Everyone has a story to tell, and these stories are important. And there are some great therapists and techniques out there to help people manage their stammer, sound fluent, be confident.
But the unremitting focus upon 'overcoming' reinforces the idea that you shouldn't stammer and you need to learn to talk 'normally'. This is wrong.
This ISAD, wherever you are on your journey, focus upon one message: this is how I talk, just accept it.
The rare examples where stammering is covered in the media focus upon watching people learn to sound fluent. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but by itself this sends just one signal: Talk properly.
We need to help people who don't stammer understand that stammering IS how some people talk. End of. Suggestions about breathing and nerves, the assumption that you have to be fluent to be accepted, the idea that stammering isn't acceptable and shouldn't be heard has no place in today's society.
As the world continues to build a more culturally inclusive environment, it's time our diversity is embraced, is visible and most especially is heard and audible. On the telly, on the radio, on film, in the workplace, in education.
So, download the guidelines below, which have been endorsed by the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists. Take them to your school, uni or workplace. Pin them on the noticeboard, email them to your local radio station. And when people cross the (guide)lines, let them know. Point out which line they crossed.
Change is rarely accomplished by one person, one campaign. Our strength is in our numbers. Wherever you are in your journey, help educate those around you and those you encounter. It's how you talk. And together let's create a world where stammering is accepted as a difference, so that all those who follow can grow up and live in a world where they are treated with respect and dignity.
If you are reading this as someone who doesn't stammer, then know that stammering is a physical condition that makes it hard to talk. It doesn't preclude the ability to communicate. It might not be instant, but fast communication isn't good communication. Some of our best writers, poets, actors and entertainers stammer.
If you need a wordsmith, then many people who stammer have thought longer and more precisely about words than people who don't. And having to spend hours listening to others, means that many who stammer are thoughtful, insightful and empathic.
So don't step back when you hear someone stammer. Step forward and listen. Just don't step in with your views on how they talk.
Jane Powell, CEO of Stamma