Stuttering is a speech disorder that is quite common in young children between the ages of 2 and 5. That’s when they are just learning to speak. However, most (50% – 80%) will outgrow this phase by puberty, either on their own or through therapy.
But for some, stuttering can continue into adulthood.
Stuttering disfluencies differ from person to person. Moreover, people may stutter more at a particular time or in a certain situation.
Individuals who stutter know what they want to say. They simply have difficulty voicing their thoughts. Therefore, it can have a dramatic impact on the way they interact with others. The condition can then present problems in school as well as in a person’s career and social life.
But besides the obvious communicating issues such as fluency and flow of speech, a person may also experience psychological effects. Stutterers sometimes exhibit low self-esteem, anxiety, and nervousness while speaking with others. And that can make them withdraw within themselves.
But is it fair to say that stuttering is a disability?
That entirely depends upon the individual case and how severe the stutter is. As mentioned earlier, symptoms will vary among individuals. So while some people are able to manage the condition, others can find it profoundly disabling.
Common symptoms include:
- Excessive repetition of sounds, syllables, or words
- Difficulty in starting to speak
- Prolonging of sounds within a word
- Pausing within a word (broken word)
- Difficulty moving to the next word
- Brief moments of silence for particular syllables or words
But besides these characteristics, stammering can significantly influence a person’s mental and emotional well-being. Due to the limited ability to communicate effectively, an individual is faced with social difficulties in daily situations. They often fall prey to self-awareness, anxiety, nervousness, the reaction of others towards their stuttering, and much more. Sometimes, these struggles overshadow the overall quality of life.
So, depending on how much your stutter affects your day to day activities, you could classify this speech disorder as a disability.
What is the legal position?
People who stutter may need extra support with tasks such as public speaking. But that does not mean that they should be discriminated against or treated differently. In fact, the law protects such individuals from being treated unfairly.
The Equality Act 2010 clearly states that anyone who has a physical or mental impairment that interferes with their long-term ability to perform typical day to day activities is defined as a person with a disability. However, the condition should not be trivial or present for less than a year. So in that respect, stuttering can be classified as a disability, especially because it can hinder one’s normal activities such as answering the phone or asking for directions.
But there’s another side too
Some people who stutter dislike labeling it as a disability. Regardless of their condition, they embrace the situation and take everything in stride. Often it is this mindset that helps them overcome any hurdle that life throws their way.
But with stuttering, the right therapy, treatment, and coaching sessions can help you learn how to stop stuttering forever. Moreover, implementing proper speech techniques and principles can help you regain confidence and cure speech anxiety.
Society and its definition of disability
On the other hand, a disability is something that society deems as different or deficient. In other words, it is often society and its attitudes that label a condition as a disability. Unfortunately, people with disabilities are often excluded or restricted in living their lives fully.
At times, they may even be expected to mask their differences. These very social pressures make some people who stutter feel ashamed of their condition. And many times, the desire to talk fluently and normally leaves them utterly deflated.
Stuttering is a condition that can be managed. But the important thing is that people, in general, need to learn to accept a style of speech that is different. A person should be respected as they are. And it’s their ideas and thoughts that should hold preference above all other aspects. Instead of pushing them towards avoidance strategies so that they can hide the condition, people need to offer support and assistance in a way that makes them more comfortable with themselves.
Your rights as a disabled employee
When stuttering is considered to be a disability, protocols need to be placed so that stutterers aren’t put at a disadvantage. In fact, a person who stutters has the right to ask for ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make their work-life easier.
Different adjustments can be made to accommodate people with different speech disfluencies. Through various support mechanisms, a person who stutters can contribute more in the workplace. More importantly, they are able to demonstrate their effectiveness on the job and therefore feel more satisfied.
Remember, you are not alone. A lot of people stutter. Children and adults often resort to speech therapy and electronic devices to improve speech fluency. With the right help and support, you won’t need to avoid speaking anymore.