Joe Biden: A President With a Stammer

Joe Biden, next to a Find The Right Words campaign advertisement

9th November 2020

Stamma CEO Jane Powell celebrates Joe Biden, a person who stammers, becoming President-elect of the United States of America.

There is real joy in welcoming Joe Biden as President-elect of the United States. Equivalent to seeing the first woman president, the first disabled president, the first black president, it's something to celebrate.  

When Biden made a point of his own stammer when talking to a young Brayden Harrington, people across the world cheered. This was a potential president talking about a condition often seen as shameful, something to hide, on news channels around the world.  

Biden's win shows clearly that stammering has nothing to do with mental capacity.

The commentary around Biden often touches upon his stammer as a failing. Stammering isn't a failing or a weakness, it is a condition which makes it hard to talk fluently. So rather than talking up his brilliant achievement of sounding fluent whilst fighting a historic election, his stammer is talked down. People will be celebrating his win across the world because, like him, they stammer. His win shows clearly that stammering has nothing to do with mental capacity, although fortitude in the face of decades of ignorance and stigma may well play a part in his character.

Joe Biden's acceptance speech

For the fluent world such an achievement is almost invisible; he is rarely heard to stammer, the condition is forgivable, easily forgettable. There will be few headlines about someone who stammers hitting the national press, unless it is a negative story. And that's the point — if he were blind, say, it would be remarked upon: the first blind, disabled president. But stammering is passed by here because of that unspoken embarrassment, because he doesn't stammer that much and so why make a point of it, because it is sad that he had a stammer but that has all passed. And that attitude tells you all you need to know about where stammering sits in our culture. Disowned, apart from by this President Elect.

Now, more than ever, we need to challenge the assumption of weakness and overcoming. We need to persuade people to choose the right words when talking about Biden's stammer. 

But this story will not go away. Any stammering will continue to be remarked upon. Before the eyes of the world Biden will meet presidents, prime ministers and princes, and his every word watched out for. Any stammer, mix of words, will be seized upon. Now, more than ever, we need to challenge the assumption of weakness and overcoming. We need to persuade people to choose the right words when talking about Biden's stammer. 

A Find The Right Words campaign advert for Joe Biden

In our Find The Right Words campaign, we highlighted the negative words used to describe stammering on Wikipedia, and produced Guidelines for the media when talking about stammering. We're going to need these in the days, months and years to come.   

Joe Biden has been able to manage his stammer so that his invisible, daily fight to get words out is rarely heard or seen. Those whose stammer weaves itself through their every conversation may wish that Biden stammered more; may wish that people understand that it isn't always possible to manage a stammer in this way. But there is time to educate the public. We have four years.

Watch Joe Biden discuss stammering with Emily Blunt in this video from the American Institute of Stuttering:

(Main image source: David Lienemann - White House (V011013DL-0556), WikiCommons)

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