|About the author: Daniele Rossi lives in Toronto, Canada and stuttered since he was four years old. Daniele produces the Stuttering is Cool podcast and authored a stuttering survival book of the same name with comics featuring Franky Banky, a fox that stutters. In 2011, he co-founded Stutter Social, an online community facilitating group video chats for people who stutter and regularly appears on radio and TV programs to spread awareness about stuttering. Daniele is an adjunct board member of the Canadian Stuttering Association and draws Franky Banky comics for the Association des bègues du Canada. In his spare time, Daniele enjoys strength training, astronomy, collecting vinyl records, planning his next travel adventure, and working on his next Franky Banky book.|
When I read that the theme for this year’s online conference was announced as being “a world that understands stuttering”, I immediately thought of how it’s up to us, the people who stutter, to spread awareness. No one else is going to do it for us because people who don’t stutter simply don’t know what it’s like to grow up and live with stuttering every day. Nobody else but us stutterers understand the hardships, embarrassing situations, emotionally scarring challenges, and the discrimination that we face. We are the only ones who know full well that stuttering isn’t a psychological issue, a breathing problem, or a memory issue causing us to forget our own names.
That’s why stuttering still sucks even though it’s 2017. The world simply needs more awareness. When The King’s Speech came out in theatres seven years ago, stuttering communities around the world were elated that stuttering was brought into the mainstream. However, one Oscar-winning movie all those years ago just isn’t enough.
Fortunately, each and every one of us has the opportunity to spread awareness each and every time we encounter a well-meaning “fluenter”. If you build up your comfort level to tell people you stutter and educate when the moment strikes, you can do your part in spreading a little awareness one person at a time.
I know it may sound daunting to stutter openly, tell someone you stutter, or even bring up the subject, but you’d be surprised at how often people will understand and accept you as you are. In fact, in the early days of my podcast, Stuttering is Cool, when I asked fluenters if they had any questions about stuttering, I was amazed at how common it was for someone to share that they knew someone who stutters. And people are curious to learn more about the phenomenon. “I was watching this TV show where someone stutters except when he sings!”
Some of the scenarios depicted in the comic above are based on true events. Starting from the top, Franky Banky ends up getting two tuna fish sandwiches – this actually happened to a few people who submitted stories to The Lighter Side page on Judy Kuster’s Stuttering Homepage. I don’t know if the people in real life corrected their order so they didn’t have to pay more than they had originally planned, but if they did, imagine the impact on the order taker. Future customers with a stutter could benefit, or upon their return to the restaurant. Of course, having to correct a food order is awkward regardless of fluency level!
The second and third comics where Franky Banky is asked if he forgot his name and advised to breathe happened to me many times in my life, especially when I was a kid. No one tells a heart patient to remember to keep their heart beating. All those times I was asked if I forgot my name, I just stood there stunned and humiliated. Nowadays I simply say “No, I just stutter” and enjoy their awkward moment as they realise what just happened! Not that I’m vindictive, but I admit it’s a little guilty pleasure of mine. But I’m understanding and good natured about it.
The fourth comic where Franky Banky is hoping the job interviewer won’t discriminate towards his stuttering is autobiographical as well. No matter how relaxed I am about my stuttering, this is still a concern during job interviews. There is only so much I can do to control my speech and I truly have no control over other people’s impressions. In any case, job interviews are daunting no matter someone’s fluency level.
The fifth comic where Franky Banky is asked if he speaks French, Italian, etc., happened to a friend of mine in a souvenir shop in Montreal last winter. We both saw the humour in the fact that the well-meaning shop owner interacted with many foreign tourists all day, every day, so not being able to speak a certain language was his natural assumption. Neither my friend nor I advertised or educated that time though. It’s a pity because the shop owner could have applied the knowledge for future foreign tourists who stutter. Who knows, maybe he saw The King’s Speech seven years ago and didn’t make the connection. Actually, regardless of fluency level or knowledge of a language, no one should be interrupted in mid-sentence.
The sixth comic where a police officer mistakes Franky Banky’s stuttering as a sign of being drunk or stoned didn’t happen to me (but like job interviews, I worry that they may misinterpret my stuttering) but I’ve come across many such stories in newspapers.
The seventh comic is based on what happened to student Kylah Simmons who was detained in customs at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport last year because border security misinterpreted her stuttering as suspicious and a sign of dishonesty. In spite of the fact that Kylah explained that she stuttered, she was detained for about an hour and missed her connecting flight.
So, as you can see, if we want to live in a world that understands stuttering, then it is truly a benefit for each one of us to work on becoming comfortable with stuttering openly and talking about our speech with the people around us and who we encounter. A few success stories include:
- My friend Anita Blom comments on media articles about stuttering posted to Facebook. She also wears awareness bracelets and buttons (like the ones I make!) as conversation pieces
- My friend, David Friedman, created and distributed an I Stutter lapel pin to make it easier for people who stutter to bring up the topic in conversations in the workplace and at industry events.
- Comedians and personal friends of mine Jody Fuller, Nina G, Jason Walther, and Brian Woo, to name a few, use their stuttering in their comedy to spread awareness and humour.
- In recent years, many independent filmmakers who stutter created documentaries and short films about stuttering such as the multi-award winning The Way We Talk by Michael Turner.
- Kylah shared her experiences with various media outlets, launched a social media awareness campaign, and created a stuttering identification card with the Stuttering Foundation of America.
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