I’m disabled – I stammer. Am I normal?

Tim Fell (Chair of Trustees) | 29.03.2016

I stammer.  In (UK) legal terms I’m disabled because my stammer has a “substantial adverse effect on my ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

I don’t want to be discriminated against.  I don’t want my stammer alone to be a reason for not employing me.  And I want reasonable adjustments in the workplace to take into account the fact that it might take me longer to say things.

I may be disabled, but I’m also good at my job.

Saying I’m disabled gives me protection under the Equality Act 2010. 'Disability' in the Equality Act is a legal concept.  You don’t have to "admit" that you would consider yourself disabled in a wider sense.  You can dissociate yourself from the disabled world if you like, and still get the benefit of the Act.

But we can’t have our cake and eat it.  Are we being disingenuous, on one hand, to demand protection against discrimination and, on the other hand, to disclaim association with the disabled community?

Can you compare stammering with other disabilities?  Is it in the same league as cerebral palsy or the inability to walk?  Alex Taylor, who is confined to a wheelchair, certainly thinks so.  As he says, “freedom of expression is far more important.  It’s the key to our personality”.

freedom of expression is far more important.  It’s the key to our personality

Looking at it another way, it’s not the stammer that’s disabling, it’s society’s attitude which disables us.  I’m disabled, but not because of my stammer.  I’m disabled because of the attitude of people around me.

I used to look on disability as an unfortunate label, with derogatory implications.  I suppose I didn’t want to be seen as disabled.  What’s wrong with being disabled?  The problem is that the word disabled can have negative connotations such as powerlessness, incapability, and being "different".  But now I feel that my view may have been rather insulting to other disabled people.

People with other disabilities are basically ordinary people too, just with a particular impairment.  Many of them would not want to be considered "different" but would see themselves as "normal" people who can’t walk, see, or make sense of words, etc.

But what does the word "normal" mean?  People who stammer make up 1% of the population.  By one definition, therefore, my stammer is not "normal".  I would say that I’m a normal person, but my stammer is not normal.  Would you consider dyslexia or depression to be "normal"?  There are so many people in a population with some form of disabling impairment that it becomes normal to be disabled in some way.

If something about you is not normal are you, therefore, disabled?  My size 15 feet are well outside the normal range.  Am I disabled?  My dancing partner would argue that I certainly am.  Does the size of my feet have a substantial adverse effect on my ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities?  No.  I therefore don’t qualify for protection under the Equality Act.  You can see that the degree of disability can range from mild to moderate, severe, or profound.

So, of course, it’s up to us individually to decide whether we view ourselves as disabled or not.  Personally, I don’t want to get too hung up on the word disabled.  Being disabled is part of me. It doesn’t define me, but I’m very proud to be associated with disabled people, some of whom are truly inspirational.