International Stammering Awareness Day (ISAD) October 22: One size does not fit persons who stammer (PWS) – Diversity, equity & inclusion

The phrase “One size does not fit all” simply indicates that what works for per­son A may not work for person B. A society that does not embrace diversi­ty, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is doomed to failure. DEI basically refers to a world in which all groups of people, particularly those with disabilities, are allowed to par­ticipate fully in community development.

It entails measures that promote underrepresented people’s equal access, opportunity, employment, and sense of belonging in any environment they find themselves. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are three closely related values that are sometimes used interchangeably, although they all signify distinct things.

Simply said, diversity refers to the presence of variances in a given situation. It usually relates to the representation of many identities such as race, gender, iden­tity, ethnicity, and disability.

Equity refers to treating all people fairly, ensuring that the norms, practises, and policies in place are unbiased, fair, and de­liver the best possible outcomes for all in­dividuals. Inclusion relates to how people perceive society and the extent to which society embraces all people, allowing them to feel included and allowing them to make significant contributions.

When a society truly embraces and implements these values, people with disabilities will receive the special attention they require.

Stammering (also known as stuttering) is a relatively unpopular disability that can be defined as a difference in speech pattern characterised by repetition, prolongation or becoming stuck on sounds or words when speaking. Stammering is also accom­panied by unpleasant physical behaviours such as:

Physical tension in the mouth, face, and body

Closing of eyes before speaking

Tapping the fingers or stamping the feet, and jerking one’s head to get a word out, and so on.

I’m sure you’ve seen one of these behaviours while engaging with a per­son who stammers (PWS). The physical behaviours linked with stammering are not as irritating and painful for the majority of PWS as the related internalised negative feelings.

These unpleasant feelings include shame, embarrassment, fear of speaking, lack of self-confidence, anxiety, stigma etc. Being a PWS myself, I’ve always believed that the stammering itself is what we expe­rience within, not what others see.

This is supported by Dr Joseph Shee­han’s stammering metaphor: He com­pares it to an iceberg, with only a little bit visible above the water and the majority of the iceberg hidden beneath. Carrying a stammer within can be so burdensome that it cripples one of their life’s aims and dreams.

PWS are frequently misunderstood, ridiculed and disregarded in society. Why? Because people do not understand the complexities of stammering. And, due to a lack of awareness of its complexity, some people believe that having a stammer is a “minor inconvenience” and hence does not require particular attention.

As the saying goes, “the one who feels the pain knows everything.” And, as a PWS who understands the anguish, treat­ing PWS like any other speaker would be like attempting to squeeze our legs into the same shoe size as “fluent” speakers.

Even among PWS, “one size does not fit all” indicates that one approach that works for person A may not work for person B. Every person stammers in a unique way. Stammering varies in severity and fre­quency; some stammer more persistently, others mildly, and others can even hide it entirely.

The type of help required by PWS varies. PWS may seek assistance in speech therapy to minimise the frequency of their stammer or just to be able to talk confi­dently with a stammer. For the best results, whatever approach is chosen should be tailored to each individual’s specific goals.

As we mark International Stammering Awareness Day (ISAD) on October 22, we implore you to take responsibility for your actions and create an environment that encourages PWS to be their best. Please keep in mind that your actions or inactions might drastically undermine a PWS’s con­fidence. You can avoid a one-size-fits-all shoe for PWS by doing the following:

Maintain good eye contact rather than looking away during stammering mo­ments.

Exhibit good listening skills by using appropriate body language to demon­strate that you are engaged in what they are saying.

Do not rush the conversation and avoid appearing to be in a hurry to get away.

Express interest in what they are saying rather than pity or impatient with how they are speaking.

Do not finish sentences for PWS; instead, be patient and wait for them to finish.

Avoid asking him/her to slow down or take a deep breath while they are still speaking; these acts are counterproduc­tive.

Never mock a PWS. It can seriously dam­age their self-esteem.

Keep your own speech rate at an even pace.

Ask the PWS how you can help if you are unsure about how to support.

Learn about stammering and how you can make talking easier for PWS.

By taking these actions, you are contrib­uting your quota to making the environ­ment openly embrace PWS, thus helping foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in our society. Let’s all get involved; one size does not fit PWS!



The writer is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Advocate and currently serves as the Executive Director of the Ghana Stammering Association.