Media representation is important

A man looking the camera and smiling. Behind him are people dressed up as Star Wars characters

Inspired by our recent campaign No Diversity Without Disfluency, Sam Gill argues that we need to see more people who stammer on TV and film. 

Stammering is one of the few disabilities that it is almost socially acceptable to poke fun at.

Representation of those that stammer on media platforms tends to be lazy portrayals of meekness or nervousness. The only regular mention of stammering tends to be the American colloquialism to emphasise a point: "Did I stutter" which is demeaning for us, inferring that stammering is just related to nervousness and worse, perceived as a weakness.

When I was younger, it seemed to me that stammering was not seen, discussed or understood. Therefore, my experience of speaking in day-to-day situations was often met with smirks, laughter or jokes at my expense. Especially with strangers, which often makes me stammer more.

It wasn't until wider representation in the media with celebrities such as Gareth Gates that stammering began to become more understood as a disability and something beyond our control, helping people see the person behind the stammer.

Stammering should be more visible in the media to normalise it as a verbal disability... I cannot emphasise enough how important this is... This is all we want — a little patience and understanding for the opportunity to be heard.

Fast forward to today when going about my daily life, the majority of the people I interact with can sense that I am struggling and tend to be more understanding and patient with me.

However, more needs to be done to raise awareness of stammering and make it more widely known as a disability. It is not something to be made a joke of and should not be used as a representation of weakness, meekness or nervousness. Stammering should be more visible in the media to normalise it as a verbal disability — there is no diversity without disfluency.

I cannot emphasise enough how important this is for someone who stammers. This is all we want — a little patience and understanding for the opportunity to be heard.

It feels like an internal battle when I, as a stammerer, try to speak — the outside world merely sees the tip of the iceberg: the disfluency, the tics, the head bobs, etc.

Internally, we're often editing what we are about to say to avoid 'problem' syllables, psyching ourselves up to speak, thinking about our breathing, worrying if we'll be understood. These are only a few examples of the internal monologues taking place. It is exhausting... the mere act of speaking, the thing that most people take for granted, can be wholeheartedly frustrating for those who stammer, irrelevant of their severity. Even someone that appears to have their stammer 'under control' is likely fighting this battle under the surface. 

So, when we do speak, it is usually worth saying!

Read more Your Voice opinion pieces. Would you like to write your own and get something off your chest? Email editor@stamma org and we'll tell you how.

Two women in running outfits holding flags and looking at the camera
Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

Become a member

It's free

Join the movement to change how people understand and react to stammering.

Sign up

Campaign. Fundraise. Connect. Meet. Vote. Talk.