I went to my first Open Day several years ago in Nottingham. It was the first time that I had come into contact with the BSA. And what particularly struck me at that event was the confidence of many of the people there. The London Open Day was the same.
To speak with confidence, whether stammering or not, is hugely liberating. And I see the job of the BSA as helping to build confidence by providing forums, opportunities, information, peer support, advice and inspiration to people who stammer. In many ways Open Days encapsulate what BSA is all about. It’s about empowering people who stammer to believe in themselves, and to have the courage to take those challenging first steps on what can initially appear to be a daunting journey.
And going to an Open Day is the first step for many people who stammer. They have the opportunity, often for the first time, to talk to other people who stammer, and to get inspiration both from them and from the speakers.
Take Shelagh Fogarty, who is a presenter at LBC London Radio. Shelagh told us during her keynote speech that she first realised she stammered at the age of nine. She had the good fortune of having a very understanding teacher who took all the pressure off her at school. But it must be one of the worst nightmares for people who stammer to be a radio presenter. Certainly mine, anyway, but Shelagh wasn’t going to let her stammer stop her.
Shelagh’s speech is fluent now, but she was asked whether someone with a noticeable stammer would be offered a job as a presenter today. Interesting question… She didn’t know the answer, but felt that if you wanted the job you shouldn’t let your stammer stop you from applying. It’s time we had a stammering presenter!
I would have liked to have gone to all the workshops but, of course, you have to choose. I went to two outstanding ones. It would take too long to recount them here, but everyone I spoke to had found great value in all the workshops they had been to during the day.
We talk a lot about changing society’s attitude to stammering, and about ensuring that people who stammer are not discriminated against. That’s important. But Open Days are about taking responsibility for our stammer, and making a conscious decision to discover ourselves through the experience and inspiration of other people.
I’m not content to just sit back and ask society to accommodate my stammer. Understand me and allow me reasonable adjustments, yes, but in the end it’s me who has to decide what I want out of life. The fact that so many people came to the London Open Day is testament to their refusal to be ruled by their stammer. I really enjoyed talking to some great people from all walks of life with one question in common: I stammer, but how can I make the most of my talents?
The worst thing about a stammer is that it puts you off doing what you really want to do. The message from the speakers at the Open Day was: don’t let it! Be brave and the rewards will be great.