Detained But Not Held Back (Kylah Simmons)

kylahAbout the author:  Kylah (Kylie) Simmons is currently a senior at Kalamazoo College (Kalamazoo, Michigan), studying Psychology with a concentration in Media Studies. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in producing television and digital content, in hopes to spread more stutter awareness through the use of media. Kylie has been stuttering since the age of three and continues to accept her speech impediment. Kylie enjoys taking her mind off of her stutter by practicing yoga daily as well as listening to music.

My personal story pertaining to me being detained in Atlanta not only allowed me to speak up, but it provided me with an opportunity to speak for those who feel voiceless. The impact of my personal experience contained several themes from this year’s ISAD’s conference. My story promoted the awareness of stuttering, the pride of valuing one’s challenges, the demanded respect from those who may misunderstand, the dignity to make a change, and the recognition of those who feel silenced or different.

Detained But Not Held Back

On Thursday, January 2, 2016, as I returned to the U.S. to visit my family from my study abroad program in Costa Rica. When going though customs, I was detained for what felt like an hour within the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport because of my stutter, a speech impediment that I have no control over. When I was pulled aside in customs, one of the first questions asked was relating to if there was something wrong with me. I explained to the officer that I had a speech impediment and that I stuttered. Although I explained my disability, I continued to be questioned. During this moment, I felt intimidated and bullied, as I was bullied growing up because of my stutter. I was questioned about my stutter and constantly called dishonest and a liar. After the event took place, I immediately spoke with the supervisor of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Atlanta. I was given a verbal apology and told that she would speak to the customs staff about proper conduct. I was not asking for anyone to be fired and I was not seeking money. I simply wanted an apology from the staff member involved as well as the customs staff members to be more educated about stuttering awareness for the next time they encounter someone with a disability. Since the incident, I have been featured on a stutter podcast called StutterTalk, as well as other online websites. In addition, I have told my story on SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young as well as for The Huffington Post and other articles. I, along with other supporters, have helped to launch a social media movement in support of my experience. The hashtag #DDDetainedInAtlanta (twitter/Facebook) sparked media attention as well as awareness internationally and nationally. The hashtag not only was used to urge the employees of the airport to be more educated on stuttering awareness, it helped spread stutter awareness. I also gained recognition for partnering with The Stuttering Foundation of America, where we collaborated to create the “I Stutter Card,” a card for stutterers that includes more information about stuttering in order to promote stutter awareness. Currently, I have been in contact with Homeland Security, brainstorming ideas to educate the TSA and U.S. Customs staff members about stuttering. I refuse to let this happen again to anyone else. I believe that everyone has a voice and should received respect, despite the challenges one must face. I want to spread more stutter awareness as well as promote stutter pride, by letting people who stutter know that they have a voice. We deserve to be heard.


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Detained But Not Held Back (Kylah Simmons) — 70 Comments

  1. Hi Kylah,
    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. What strength it takes to not only contact U.S. customs in Atlanta but then become an advocate to ensure that this will not happen again. It is amazing the ripple effect that has happened from your positive reaction to this negative situation. Great job!


  2. Hi Ms. Simmons,

    I’m sure most people, myself included, would let a situation such as yours affect and frustrate them inwardly but never actually have the energy or strength to take action. You and your story are inspiring! I love your idea for the “I Stutter Card,” even for people without a stutter who are less abrasive than the Atlanta TSA agent. I especially love the last comment on the bottom of the card indicating that stuttering is not caused by stress, as I think this is a common misconception.

    Thank you for sharing your experience!

  3. Hi Ms. Simmons,
    Thank you so much for sharing what I’m sure was an extremely frustrating time. Stories like this definitely help raise awareness and your idea for an “I stutter card” is amazing!! As someone who loves to travel, I was wondering if you faced any difficulty traveling or during your time in Costa Rica because of your stutter? Also, as someone who isbstutterjng to be a future speech pathologist, I was wondering if you had any advice I could give future clients on how to better accept their stutter.
    Again, thank you for your inspiring story!