|About the Author: Michael Sugarman, MSW. Attended peer support groups for people with disabilities at the Center for Independent Living, Berkeley California, in the late 1970’s and saw the stuttering community movement and disability rights movement together to argue for human rights (Americans with Disabilities Act) and remove stigma of being “stupid, nervous”, or seen as “less than whole.”|
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug” Mark Twain (1)
In 1978 a few members of the National Stuttering Association (NSA) attended a panel discussion by Gene Cooper, Hugo Gregory, Joseph Sheehan and William Perkins at the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) Conference, San Francisco, California who asked speakers to reframe from using “Stutterer” and use “Person who Stutters.”
Michael Hartford from National Council for Adult Stutterers and I presented Advocacy Movement in USA and the Failure of the Profession (ASHA) Conference 1978. Approximately 150 -175 folks attended.
The term “people first language” first appears in 1988 as recommended by advocacy groups in the USA (2). The usage has been widely adopted by speech language pathologists and researchers with ‘person who stutters’ (PWS) replacing stutterer.
In our society, speech is considered one of the most important means of interpersonal communication. While other means such as written language, may be superior at times in conveying the content of messages, spoken language not only contains the content, but includes information about the speaker’s intent, emotions, personality and perceptions. That is why people spend millions of dollars developing tools that allow for automatic voice recognition systems and incorporation of voice and images in electronic communication (3).
Unfortunately the window speech provides on the speaker’s self also can lead to stereotypical perceptions of people with speech issues that go well beyond their speech difficulties.
While spoken word is taken for granted by most, the use of speech language is challenging for millions around the world who stutter. It is estimated that 1% or 70 million of the 7 billion people with whom we share this world, stutter. For many of us, daily communication is a constant struggle; our speech may not open doors, but closes them for interpersonal, academic and professional development and fulfilment.
Disrespectful language can make us feel excluded and a barrier to full participation. I am hoping we can address this by developing Mindful Stuttering Language to change our relationship with listeners and society to create a positive environment in which to develop their aspirations and advocate with teachers, colleagues, family members and partners how words and phrases they use make us feel (4).
First we may want to address: being different; recognition of our self-worth and dignity, and celebrate contributions, skills and strengths we exhibit. Our need to change and examine common stereotypes of our stuttering: incapable; not intelligent; unable to express feelings; and possibly considered as an inspiration.
Please add your thoughts and comments on what you believe would be Mindful Stuttering Language. Thank you.
- National Youth Leadership Network-Kids as Self Advocates @ 2006 NYLN and KASA
- People First Language Wikipedia
- Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for People who Stutter 2000
- National Youth Leadership Network-Kids as Self Advocates @ 2006NYLN and KASA
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