Recognise stuttering as a disability not a shortcoming
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Dane Isaacs and Candice Groenewald
OCTOBER 22 is recognised as International Stuttering Awareness Day. Approximately 1% of the people worldwide stutter, yet there are many misconceptions about stuttering, especially in South Africa.
One of the key misunderstandings about stuttering is that it is a speech challenge or disorder that should be managed or controlled by the person who stutters.
However, this individual and deficit perspective fails to recognise the role that society plays in discriminating against people who stutter.
For example, research has shown that persons who stutter are typically bullied and victimised at school, discriminated against, excluded from courses at university, and experience difficulty finding employment or being promoted – this because of their stutter.
These negative experiences have equally devastating impacts on the emotional and psychological well-being of people who stutter.
In the spirit of activism and awareness, we call for transformation in the way society views and approaches stuttering; moving away from the perspective that individuals who stutter need to be “fixed” and towards creating an enabling environment that does not discriminate against people with different disabilities.
By continuing to only view stuttering as a speech disorder that can be managed, or overcome, we place the responsibility of stuttering solely on the individual.
In this way, the oppression, discrimination, and disablement that millions of people who stutter experience around the world, is left hidden and unaddressed.
We are convinced that transformation is only possible when we start to recognise and approach stuttering as a disability.
We are aware that there is much contention among academics and speech-language pathologists about the question of disability and stuttering.
Still, we maintain that a disability studies framework is important for highlighting the social and political aspects of stuttering, which is imperative to address the prejudice, discrimination and oppression people who stutter endure.
We strongly believe that people who stutter should not be expected to merely “fit” into a society that disables and discriminates against them. They should have access to a transformed society, like all disabled people; a society that acknowledges and respects their disability rights and accepts people who stutter as a valuable part of society.
Isaacs is a PhD research intern at the Human Sciences Research Council and a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Psychology at Stellenbosch University.
Dr Groenewald is a Chief Research Specialist at the Human Sciences Research Council and a Research Associate in the Department of Psychology at Rhodes University.