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"Fluntering" - a new speech impediment

Kevin Hann | 01.03.1996

Kevin Hann has been refused a job because of stammering and shares his thoughts and ideas about disability and discrimination.

Fluntering cartoonIt is hard for me to believe that at the age of 31 after finishing my Masters Degree in Social Work and Probation, that I am still being discriminated against in finding a job. Of course, most of the time I can't prove that one of the reasons why I haven't been offered the job is because of my stammer, because they never admit it. I also think to myself "I am just using this as an excuse for not getting a job". Well, actually one potential employer did admit it to me, about six years ago. He said to me "Well Mr Haan you are well qualified for the job and have all the right experience etc ... but ... I have noticed that you stammer." (State the bloody obvious, I thought to myself). He then said "You must understand that we as a firm have no problem with you stammering (That's very kind of you I thought!). However, we have some very important clients who might consider that you are not competent at your job if they speak to you on the phone and you cannot communicate with them. Therefore I'm afraid we cannot consider you for the job". I felt about two inches tall, with two heads, five eyes, and covered in green slime. What was I thinking of, of course I shouldn't have applied for this job in my condition, with a hideous stammer that everyone feels sick and embarrassed when they hear.

At the time I accepted this without question. Now I can't believe how wrong and stupid I was to place the blame on to myself. OK, I was younger, and accountancy firms are not noted for their compassion but I'm now applying for that caring of caring professions, social work and to a lesser extent probation. Am I being naive in thinking that their fancy "equal opportunities" and "anti-discriminatory policies" would make any difference, or that they know so much about being sensitive towards other human beings. However, I am forgetting one vital thing, most of society does not see stammering as a disablement, but more importantly we as stammerers do not see it as a disablement either. Is it that we are afraid of being stigmatised, labelled as a "disabled" person.

Let us take just one high-profiled issue around disablement, that of wheelchair access. The word "disabled" if you break if down says dis-abled, i.e. the "ability" to do certain things has been taken away from the person. So a person is labelled as disabled if they cannot do the things that "able-bodied" persons can do and to the same extent and efficiency. A person in a wheelchair for instance cannot walk up a flight of stairs or fit through certain doors or get on to most buses. But who has made this a problem ... society has ... by ignoring the minority. Think about a society where 95% of human beings had to move around by wheelchairs, had partial hearing and sight, and stammered. Most telephones would be specially designed for the partial hearing and those without speech. The minority with 100% hearing and speech would be fighting to get phones adapted specially for their needs. There would be complaints from the minority that can walk. "It's a real hassle having to put a seat in to the car every time we want to use it, and that the reason why we are later than everyone else to work is because everyone else can speed down the "wheelpaths" in their wheelchairs knocking over the disabled people who are walking" they cry!! Wouldn't it sound strange to hear someone speaking fluently? We could call it "fluntering" and we could offer speech therapy to help them pronounce words with repeated letters and little idiosyncrasies such as clicking noises etc.

I know I'm being flippant, and I apologise if I have offended anyone, but I just wanted to share some weird thoughts and ideas that seem to circle around in my head.

Returning to the problem of discrimination in job interviews, my advice to you is not to mention your stammer in the initial application UNLESS you are GUARANTEED an interview by virtue of being "disabled". To my mind I am disabled, even though the rest of society has not yet come to the same way of thinking YET. Therefore I have no problem in ticking YES to the question, "Do you consider yourself disabled?" Hopefully it is my small contribution to getting employers to think about their own discrimination against stammerers.

In interview I would start off by explaining about your stammer, saying something like, "Before we begin could I just mention the fact that I do have a stammer. I am telling you this so that it is not confused with me being very nervous, even though I have to admit I am slightly nervous. I would just like to say that I don't believe it would affect my ability to perform the job required of me."

This puts you in control, prevents them from mistaking stammering for having no confidence and basically impresses the pants off some interviewers. (Not all). But what have you got to lose because they are going to see that you stammer anyway and at least you got in first.

I wish you all the best of luck and don't give up or feel sorry for yourselves. Fight the discrimination against stammerers.

From the Spring 1996 edition of Speaking Out