About the authors
|Dr Trudy Stewart is a retired consultant speech and language therapist. She worked in the UK with children and adults who stammer for nearly 40 years. Her last role was clinical lead of the Stammering Support Centre in Leeds. She has taught undergraduate, graduate, and specialist courses for clinicians in the UK, Europe and Sri Lanka. She has carried out research while a clinician, presented her work at international conferences and has written several texts on stammering. Her latest book, published in 2016 is ‘Stammering: a resource book for teachers’. Currently she writes children stories, learns French and directs plays.|
|Dr Jonathon Linklater, a speech and language therapist in Ireland, stutters himself. Specializing in fluency disorders, he established an intensive therapy program called the Dublin Adult Stuttering (DAS) course in 2005. Jonathon co-founded the private practice SpeechMatters.ie in Dublin in 2011. He has been involved with the Irish Stammering Association since 2003 and is currently the Development Director for the charity. Since completing the European Clinical Specialism in Fluency Disorders in 2009, Jonathon has completed his PhD at the University of Limerick, with guidance from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Clinical Speech and Language Studies. He is past chair of the Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists; the professional body for Speech and Language Therapists. He likes to make the occasional film.|
|Paul Railton is a Documentary Photographer and Film maker from West Yorkshire in the UK. He has created work with a strong social purpose for various publications in the UK and Ireland for over ten years. His photographs have been published in many international newspapers such as the Irish Times, the Sunday Times and many more. Most recently he has been working with refugee groups, charities and arts organisations creating short documentary films. Railton also recently curated an exhibition of photography by photojournalist Will Wintercross. The exhibition focused on a culmination of work spanning the photojournalist’s career to date; from his first work for the Ngami Times in Botswana to his war reportage in Mali and Syria, photographing the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone and Liberia and cricket in the Himalayas.|
The social model of disability (Oliver, 1990) states that an impairment, such as dysfluent speech, may only become a disability when social issues such as physical barriers and/or negative public attitudes, are present.
There is a significant body of research demonstrating discrimination, stereotyping and stigma associated with stammering which is present in the general public (St. Louis, 2015) and in specific groups like teachers (Dorsey & Guenther, 2000).
A joint symposium in 2013 at the Stammering Support Centre in Leeds, England brought together researchers, clinicians and service users. They identified the need to tackle public attitudes. The group’s final report recommended research:
“…to address misconceptions, overt prejudice, negative attitudes, discrimination including subconscious biases in order to remove barriers towards people who stammer.” (Stewart 2013).
There have been a number of attempts involving professionals, speech & language therapists, charitable groups and self help groups for people who stammer (PWS) to change public attitudes to stammering (Sugarman, 2004, International Communication Project, 2014). However, none in the UK have involved the use of an original stage play and a cast of amateur actors. This is a brief report on such a project.
The play was written by Yorkshire playwright, Neil Rathmell, with Dr Trudy Stewart (retired consultant speech and language therapist). The stammering community were involved in the development of the play script and in the rehearsal process; support groups from the Yorkshire region contributed to both. The aim of this collaboration was to produce an authentic and valid representation of stammering. The play depicted a range of typical situations experienced by a young adult who stammers called Alex, including, for example, a memory of the first time he realised his speech was different and this difference was called stammering.
The stammer was represented by a character called “the wrestler”. This depiction allowed the audience to see Alex’s experience of:
- Struggling with his stammer
- His difficulty in seeing his true self without the stammer getting in the way
- The stammer undermining, challenging and reducing his confidence and self esteem.
After five public performances at The Studio, Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds, a focus group type interview was carried out by an independent person, i.e. someone who had not been involved in the writing or the performances (Dr Linklater). The aim of this interview was to ascertain what effect the play and the associated involvement with the stammering community had had on their perceptions and attitudes towards stammering.
At the outset it was established that the majority of the cast had little or no knowledge of stammering prior to seeing the play script at a play reading.
The key outcomes for this group of amateur performers were:
- They felt they had produced an authentic and valid representation of stammering
- They felt that their performances had been validated by the stammering community
- They better understood the physical aspects of stammering
- They better understood the covert issues associated with stammering
- They reported an increase in their own tolerance of hearing a person who stammered
- They better understood how to respond to a person who was stammering
- They felt a sense of responsibility towards accurately representing the stammering community to the wider public within their performances
- They reported the intention to act as advocates for the stammering community in the future
This is an initial report on this project. Further analysis on this group of actors, the audience responses and those of the director are planned for the future.
It is interesting to note that this involvement in a visual portrayal of stammering helped the cast have a deeper understanding of both the overt and covert components of the experience of stammering. They were able to construe the stammering community’s experience and this added a dimension of authenticity to their performances, which perhaps would not have been there otherwise.
In addition their experience appears to have impacted on their attitudes, intentions and behaviours towards stammering beyond the involvement of the play. Thus, the outcomes went beyond an educative function and allowed those involved to develop an advocate role for stammering, which is a new and exciting development which exceeded expectations and which offers possibilities for future work on public attitudes.
While the outcome of a world that understands stammering may be beyond the scope of any single activity, the use of theatre suggests that individuals and groups can be moved from beyond simply understanding stammering toward an advocacy role.
Dorsey, M. & Guenther, R.K. (2000) Attitudes of professors and students towards college students who stutter. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 25, 77-83
International Communication Project (2014) http://internationalcommunicationproject.com Retrieved 22 August 2014
Oliver, M. (1990) A sociology of disability or a disablist sociology? In L. Barton. (Ed.) Disability and Society: Emerging issues and insights. London: Longman.
St. Louis, K.O. (ed.) (2015) Stuttering meets stereotype, stigma, and discrimination: an overview of attitude research. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press
Stewart, T. (2013) A Report on a Joint Symposium. Stammering Support Centre, Leeds. Sept 2013. Available on ECSF website.
Sugarman, Michael (2004) “International Stuttering Awareness Day – ISAD from conception to present day”. Minnesota State University, Mankato, United States. http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad7/papers/sugarman7.html Retrieved 22 August 2017
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