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Equal Opportunities - Visit to Scottish Parliament

| 30.01.2007

Cathy Peattie MSPOn June 14th 2005 a group of eight people who stammer, plus BSA Scotland Development Manager, Jan Anderson, attended the Scottish Parliament to meet with MSPs from the Equal Opportunities Committee (EOC).

The EOC had decided on three key areas in which to explore barriers/identify positive strategies for challenging inequalities. Our group of people who stammer raised issues relating to these such as:

Being able to work

  • challenge of initial interviews, including group interviews, when stammering is likely to be particularly problematic and people who stammer are disadvantaged in demonstrating their potential
  • increasing emphasis on good communication skills which may be narrowly defined
  • attitudes/assumptions about the personality or capabilities of the person who stammers (eg that they are nervous or less intelligent)
  • difficulties progressing to senior management/sidelining to technical roles
  • subtle discrimination in the corporate culture where a stammering face may just not be seen to fit, particularly at higher, more public levels
  • the responsibility for raising the issue of stammering tends to lie with people who stammer who may find it difficult to talk about this subject
  • good practice for one participant entailed being encouraged to participate fully and being credited with the skills to fulfil the job despite fairly severe stammering during the early stages of the post. The confidence demonstrated by his employers has helped him to fulfil his potential and this has positively affected his fluency.

Using further and higher education

  • challenge of presentations, especially using microphones
  • request for 'reasonable adjustments' such as more time, choice in order of presentations often not taken seriously
  • difficulty asserting oneself in tutorials and group discussions
  • insensitive handling by tutors/lecturers
  • examples were given where it was implied that the person who stammered was purely 'nervous' ie, did not have a specific communication impairment
  • even where students had identified stammering as a 'disability' this did not attract any response or active measures of support
  • when contemplating further/higher education or career choice, any guidance generally steered people who stammer away from roles involving communication skills
  • one participant felt over protected at school (was not required to participate in presentations but felt swept aside as a result) and this only compounded her difficulties later on when she felt particularly ill equipped for the challenges in participating at university

Having a social life

It was generally agreed that this was less of an issue, however, people identified

  • difficulties ordering tickets face to face or on the phone
  • difficulties ordering drinks
  • difficulties communicating at the Sport's centre of gym
  • a need for customer services training
  • one participant reported that she felt unable to participate in kata competitions at karate which involve shouting out specific terms in front of a large audience. Her teacher was not sympathetic to her difficulties and was unwilling to discuss other options.
  • concerns regarding the portrayal of people who stammer in films and the media.

The group called for

  • challenging of societal attitudes through effective disability awareness training, to be provided to public authorities, employers, educators and those providing goods and services that should always include a component on communication impairment, and within this, specifically stammering
  • campaigns featuring positive images of people who stammer
  • greater recognition of stammering amongst teachers and speech and language therapists (from an early age to adulthood)
  • increased and proactive support from lecturers/employers
  • negotiation between employers/lecturers and the person who stammers regarding helpful strategies for making the most of the person's potential
  • improvements in speech and language therapy provision
  • support for BSA Scotland!

Those who participated found this an inspiring and empowering experience. They managed to communicate what it means to stammer most eloquently. A member of the Glasgow self-help group commented, "This sort of challenge puts me on a high. I've had a problem free week since the Inquiry and can't recall a single bad block!" A member of the Edinburgh Stammering Support Group added, "I think it's great that stammering was included in the Inquiry!" Jan Anderson concluded "often the hardest, but possibly the best, way through stammering is to talk your way out of it and here was an opportunity to shout to the top!"

Our report to the EOC Inquiry Shout it to the top (pdf) was adapted as a poster for the Oxford Dysfluency Conference, 29 June - 2 July 2005.


Background to the visit

This meeting was one of a series designed to gather oral evidence for the EOC's Disability Inquiry 'Removing Barriers: Creating Opportunities' that culminated in a comprehensive report in November 2006, available on the Scottish Parliament's archive website (external link).

BSA Scotland was honoured to welcome Cathy Peattie MSP, Convenor of the EOC, as keynote speaker at its formal launch on 1st December 2004 and we are delighted that Cathy and her committee have been taking the concerns of people who stammer to heart as a component of this Inquiry. The Committee hosted a series of consultation events across Scotland, open to individuals and representatives of diverse groups and organisations. It also orchestrated a small number of 'visits' with specific groups and we were privileged to be selected for one of the latter two-hour sessions. In the event, because the new BSA Scotland office is still being decorated, the meeting took place in the new Scottish Parliament building, hence we did the 'visiting'. Participants were treated to coffee and a huge pile of excellent Scottish Parliament shortbread, as well as a short tour, including the debating chamber.

The Inquiry grew out of the European Year for Disabled People (2003) and was informed by current Disability Discrimination legislation (1995 - 2005) and the social model of disability that focuses on societal barriers that limit people's potential rather than medical diagnoses of what represents disability. The Committee is sensitive to the many conflicting issues surrounding disability and identifying oneself as disabled. It decided on three key areas in which to explore barriers/identify positive strategies for challenging inequalities:

Being able to work
Using further and higher education
Having a social life

Last updated: January, 2007