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What if we fight for our right to stammer?

Patrick Campbell | 09.02.2015

"T-This is what I sound like when I speak for myself. This is what I sound like". I recoil from the sheer vocal power after listening to Erin Schick's performance poem on stuttering.  It's brave, open, honest, and most importantly proudly stammered.

Her poem, to me, encapsulates the growing movement of dysfluency pride. A term I first heard at a workshop at the Glasgow BSA conference run by Sam Simpson and Katy Bailey (see also this video of Sam, Katy and St John at the Oxford Dysfluency Conference talking on this subject). It was news to me: stammer’s taking pride in their speech impediment? Have they lost the plot?

However, having read into it a bit more, I have tempered that view. Dysfluency pride/stammering activism is a movement taking strength from the disability rights movement and the social model of disability, that sadly seems to have passed stammering by in the most part. The disability rights movement led us away from seeing a disability as an individual defect but rather a form of social discrimination against certain types of human variation. For example, under the ideas of the movement, a person who needs to use a wheelchair is only disabled when society assumes the ability to walk and therefore disabled access is not provided. People who use wheelchairs have demanded society remove this assumption with a consequent increase in buildings accessible to all.

Taking this premise, stammering is only a problem because our culture values, and potentially sometimes demands, fluent speech. What right does society have to expect fluent speech from us when we are not able? What happens if we start to reject this value and demand on fluent speech?

What if, rather than hiding our stammer to appease society’s demands we fight for our right to stammer? This is the thought behind dysfluency pride.

The strongest voices of this approach are to be found in the United States, with the provocative blog Did I Stutter and the podcast StutterTalk. These both recently combined for two powerful but controversial podcast episodes, fascinating listening if you are interested in the topic. To take this view of pride in our stammers into our lives may a be a significant mental challenge after years of fluency chasing. Well, it is in my case anyway. If you look to the media, nearly all stories about stammering contain that word overcome. A pervasive view of stammering in society is as a defect that is there to be defeated; we can so easily internalise this view.

Dysfluency pride is looking for individuals to question this opinion of society and take a much more empowering view of their speech. Already many forms of therapy aim for clients to accept stammering but dysfluency pride wants us to flourish with it. It wants us to stand up and question the current fluent values of society, to stammer loudly and proudly, to show society what we sound like.