The England football team has a new manager: Roy Hodgson, a man of many talents and achievements. Mr. Hodgson also suffers (if that’s the right word) from rhotacism, a difficulty pronouncing the letter ‘r’. The Sun welcomed his appointment with a headline mocking this slight speech defect.
It was the perfect storm: a story by the papers about the papers; about football; and about our attitudes to difference and disability.
That morning, BSA member John Hague called the office to say he’d be on BBC Radio York to talk about it, and asked if I’d join in for the live interview. BBC West Midlands called for a live interview later that evening. ITV News wanted a BSA spokesperson to appear on television, as did ‘Daybreak’ for the following morning, both ably fielded by BSA Chair Leys Geddes. BBC Radio 5 Live held a discussion with people who stammer, with Mandy Taylor from Belfast having her say, and BSA member Michael Turner shone on his local radio station.
One question is: is it okay to mock other people’s speech problems? We don’t want to be po-faced but should get an answer to the question: if it’s not okay to mock someone in public who has problems speaking as a result of suffering a stroke, why do we think it’s fine when it comes to stammering? What is it about a speech problem, like not being able to pronounce an ‘r’, that makes it okay to mock a man who is fluent in five languages?
The second question is: why the BSA? There are many other charities, most of them bigger than us, but none achieved the coverage we did. Journalists are coming to us because we have the profile – but mainly because of people like John, Mandy, Michael, Leys and many others who are willing to speak out. Stammering makes for gripping radio. People will want to know your stories. It’s less scary than you think.
If you fancy speaking publicly about stammering, join the BSA Speaking Out team.
From Speaking Out Spring/Summer 2012, p5