About the Authors:
Wendy Holcombe is an academic within the School of Education and proudly autistic. She is deeply invested in supporting pre-service teachers to understand and appreciate diversity, so they enter their profession as passionate advocates of social inclusion. Her research is focused on identifying effective ways of planning for equitable educational experiences for all learners.
Grant Meredith is an academic within the School of Engineering, Information Technology & Physical Sciences at Federation University Australia, speech coach, digital disruptor and social media influencer. He leads the applied Technologies for Empowering People for Participation in Society (TEPPS) research program where he enjoys making “assertive technologies” to empower people (including people who stutter).
Warner Bros. and their range of cartoon characters have taught many things regarding speech diversity and empowerment, albeit in a covert way. Prominent examples include Daffy Duck’s and Sylvester’s prominent lisps, Wile Coyote’s selective mutism, Elmer Fudd’s articulation problems and Yosemite Sam’s inability to control his speaking volume. The hero for all of us who stutter though of course is Porky Pig. In fact, in 1987 Gerald Johnson conducted a clinical study of Porky Pig cartoons and found that Porky’s characterisation somewhat accurately portrayed stuttering and in the cartoon lore it looked likely that he inherited it from his father. Putting aside the fact that the original voice actor Joe Dougherty was a person who stutters, Porky has continued to stutter ever since and like other speech impaired characters their speech has never been a negative focal point or clear tool of laughter. Their speech patterns have been portrayed as traits and not as impediments. But there is one character that we often forget about who’s wisdom can assist us to be stronger communicators and more assertive in the way that we view stuttering. That character is the blustery and loud rooster Foghorn Leghorn.
So, what can we learn from such a character who is brash, bold, egotistical and arguably flying under the radar of cancel-culture? Well, it all revolves around one of his most famous running lines “I do declare!” One of the hottest debated topics within the stuttering world that is a point of continual debate and social media attention is that of whether you should “disclose” your stuttering when in a conversation or within specific situations such as a job interview, a date or a restaurant etc. Disclosure is a common strategy promoted around support groups and speech programs as a way of making the listener aware of your stuttering and in turn hopefully making you feel more speech-confident within that given situation. This paper proposes an alternative to disclosing that aligns more effectively with an empowering approach.
The fundamental purpose of disclosure relates to how much of yourself you choose to share with others. Beneath the hesitation to disclose a condition or difference there often lies a fear of judgment based on stigma and impact of stereotypical assumptions. Feelings very relatable to a person who stutters. Disclosure suggests a process of revealing something secretive and is often associated with feelings of shame. At its heart disclosure can be passive and victimising, rarely associated with confidence, pride or identity. One alternative is to follow the example of Foghorn and embrace the assertiveness of “declaration”.
Consider these dictionary definitions …
Disclose: Make (secret or new information ) known; Allow (something hidden) to be seen.
Declare: Say something in a solemn and emphatic manner; Acknowledge possession of.
Making a declaration is an empowering process. With chest high and feathers fluffed, we do solemnly and emphatically declare that we are proud of all of the unique characteristics that make us who we are. We also reject any negative associations with our condition and see no reason why it should be secret or hidden. We make this declaration from a position of confidence, knowing that we may be judged unfairly, but solid in our understanding that we deserve respect. We stand proudly in our own truth.
For the duration of our lives our condition has influenced how we communicate and interact with others. It does not define us, but it cannot be separated from who we are. There have been additional challenges but none that have prevented us from achieving our goals. We acknowledge these challenges but also embrace our many strengths. We celebrate differences and address our needs through enhanced abilities forged under pressure. Most importantly, we claim the right to be proud of who we are.
So when it comes to personal information do you disclose, declare or respectfully decline to share? That is the question! Declaration is not for everyone and I would caution others to consider the following questions before deciding the appropriate stance for themselves.
- Whose business is it? Do I need to share my personal information?
- What are the possible impacts of declaring? Am I taking an unnecessary risk?
- What are the benefits of declaring? Could I make a difference by taking this action?
- Am I ready for the possible reactions, responses and ramifications of declaring? Can I stand proudly in my own truth?
Foghorn, Porky and friends all stepped into their experience with confident expectations, leaving no room for negative derision. They did not need to disclose or declare conditions because differences made no difference within their cartoon community. Perhaps in time the disclose or declare debate will no longer be an issue for us either. When diversity is celebrated, attributes of difference are embraced as aspects of typical human variation – no big deal – and not viewed as factors that divide, segregate and categorise. In the meantime, if you feel the need to disclose then consider a changed mindset, become proud, assertive and declare instead.
Johnson, G. F. (1987). A clinical study of Porky Pig cartoons. Journal of fluency Disorders, 12(4), 235-238.
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