Some people consider stuttering a form of disability while most people generally don’t.
Even among those who stutter, many have strong objections against being labeled as ‘disabled’ because they stutter when speaking.
For others, however, their stuttering is disabling.
They propose that they be given as much disability privilege as others within the spectrum as stated in the Equality Act 2010.
But is stuttering a disability?
What is the legal position on whether a person who stutters is disabled or not?
More importantly, is understanding what it means for a person to be disabled. Disability is more of a legal term than a medical term.
Yes, it has its medical implications and this overlaps with the legal definition of the term.
But legally, disability encompasses a whole lot of meanings and factors that most people don’t associate with the word.
As such, it might be helpful to look at the meanings of these terms individually and then overlap them to help you understand why stuttering may or may not be a disability.
Table of Contents
- What Is Stuttering?
- What Is Considered a Disability?
- Is Stuttering a Disability?
- The Legal Position on Stuttering as a Disability
What Is Stuttering?
Stuttering is a form of speech disorder that involves significant problems with the normal fluency of speech. Stuttering is also called stammering.
While most people will experience problems with their fluency of speech at one point or the other in their lives as a result of stress, lack of what to say, or when they tell lies, people who stutter generally experience the problem more frequently even when they know exactly what to say.
People who stutter know what to say or have something to say but they find it difficult to say them.
This is because sometimes they find it difficult to pronounce certain words or syllables in a word.
They may prolong a word or syllable, pause mid-sentence when they reach a certain difficult word, or repeat themselves over and over again to get a word right.
They sometimes find it difficult to pronounce their names or names of friends and loved ones.
Since stammerers find it difficult to pronounce certain words, they tend to use such words less in their conversations or replace the ‘difficult’ words with other less stressful synonyms.
Stuttering in Children
Stuttering is most common among children.
This is because kids are at the learning stage of language and tend to possess less vocabulary. As such, they find it more difficult to either pronounce certain words or even get the right word to express themselves.
And so, they stutter and struggle to say the things they want to say because of their limited vocabulary.
The condition, however, can often persist to adulthood and become a chronic problem for the adult.
For most people, being ‘disabled’ means that a person has some form of physical injury or any other visible condition on the body, which prevents them from doing what every other person can do.
While this definition of disability is not far from the truth, it, however, is not complete.
True, a great pointer to disability is a condition that prevents the disabled from leading a normal life if given the chance.
But disability is not only limited to the physical body.
As such, while a person with a visible injury or an amputated limb may be disabled, others with mental conditions and other less physical conditions can also be disabled.
For a condition to be considered ‘disabling’, such a condition must be shown to prevent the disabled from leading a normal life.
As such, any condition that makes it difficult for people with that condition to perform certain tasks or interact with the world around them is termed a disability.
Dimensions of Disability
The different types of disabilities range from autism to blindness and deafness. Disability, however, manifests in three significant dimensions:
- Impairment such as loss of sight or limb
- Activity limitations such as difficulty in problem-solving, hearing, walking, and running
- Participation restrictions in engaging in social circle or recreational activities
The various forms of manifestation of disability give an overview of what makes a condition disabling or not.
Is Stuttering a Disability?
While most people understand that people who stutter generally have a disorder with the fluency of their speech, they do not consider it as disabling.
This is because to a lot of people, disability should be a physical limitation.
Even those who stutter most times don’t see themselves as disabled.
Apart from disliking the disability tag, they don’t think that stuttering prevents them from leading normal lives.
They disagree with this even when it is obvious that the condition affects their day-to-day interactions and relationships in their working places, schools, or homes.
For instance, a person who stutters may not consider himself disabled.
And may often use avoidance strategy to keep himself thinking that stuttering doesn’t affect his day-to-day activities even when it does.
Such an individual may, for instance, avoid answering the phone because he knows that he will stutter.
He may also avoid using certain difficult words or speaking in group discussions because he feels he may stutter and end up embarrassing himself.
In such cases, there are substantial communication and participation restrictions that limit the ability of the individual to carry out certain activities.
Thus, making the condition a disabling factor and one that actively prevents them from interacting fully with the world around them.
The Legal Position on Stuttering as a Disability
The Equality Act 2010 is the bill that clearly defines the precinct of disability.
For a condition to be termed as disabling, it must meet the terms of the Equality Act 2010.
For a stuttering disability claim to be valid at the employment tribunal, sufficient evidence must be shown that stuttering has had a substantial adverse effect on the day-to-day activities of the stammerer as laid out by the Equality Act 2010.
This substantial adverse effect shows that the individual has a condition that limits their ability to either communicate or express themself fully to those around them.
Such adverse effects might be an inability to speak on the phone or talk and share ideas within a group.
This must be shown to be a prolonged condition lasting more than 12 months.