However, ableism is not just “out there.” It only works because it twists inside the people it targets, in our case, people who stutter. Ableism is internalized from an early age, as ableist assumptions take root in us and we begin to believe them to be true. Assumptions like: we must speak fluently to be taken seriously; we can expect to be made fun of and discriminated against (and there is really nothing to do about it); and, a stutter is not only a problem but is my problem. How many of these things do we simply accept as truth?
These beliefs are, pardon my french, complete bullshit (poke around on our website to see our views on stuttering and ableism). I know this in my head. I know that stuttering is not really about my body and how it speaks, but about ridiculous ideas of what “normal” speech sounds like and cultural expectations regarding how fast and fluent everyone needs to be. I know that stuttering is more about society than about me.
But the thing is, no matter how disgusting and untrue ableist beliefs may be, over time they become a part of us.
How do you root out a part of yourself?
We have lived with lies about stuttering for so long that making social changes to the world “out there” may be easier than not hating ourselves and our speech--those quiet whispers that tell us the negative ways people respond to stuttering really is our fault. A central part of reframing stuttering and resisting the medical model is going to be dealing with internalized ableism and changing ourselves. This is difficult work, but I believe it is possible to overcome these lies about ourselves.
What can we do about internalized ableism? I am certainly no expert as I am still working through the process myself, but here are two ideas:
1) Education—while this ultimately isn’t the most important one on the list, it is still central. I believe it is difficult (as I mentioned in another blog post) to change ourselves in any lasting way when we still accept the medical model of stuttering: the belief that stuttering is a biological and physiological thing. We need to understand ourselves in other ways that shift the focus away from our bodies and onto social discriminations and ableist social expectations. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of stuttering literature assumes the medical model. This needs to change.
2) Community—we need communities that affirm and encourage dysfluent speech. We support self-help groups, but we also need communities that are not based in medical-models of stuttering; communities of dysfluent speakers that can encourage one another enough to imagine their stutters not as individual problems to cope with, but as important and diverse voices in the world.