The podcast raised many points worth further discussion (and indeed many that have already been tackled and nuanced on this blog), but one in particular caught my attention as worthy of further comment, since it involved the very heart of what Did I Stutter is about.
The piece of the conversation I want to focus on begins at 4:25 in response to the first point on Did I Stutter’s page, where the readers are put off by Did I Stutter’s bold claim to know what stuttering is. Did I Stutter writes:
“we understand disability and stuttering not as an individual defect, but first and foremost as a social discrimination against certain forms of human speaking.”
By and large, the B Team seems to find this claim and its explanation reductive. Questions are raised about whether focusing on society/ableism discounts the experience and struggle of the person stuttering, the role of internalized ableism, and whether calling stuttering a matter of discrimination is “painting this concept with a wide brush stroke.” Caryn Herring in particular found herself defensive regarding the strength of the claim: “it’s telling me ‘this is what this is, and this is what I should feel.’”
The questions raised are mostly issues this blog has expanded on, and are certainly still open to continued discussion and molding. What struck me in listening, however, was how strongly the Team pushed back against Did I Stutter making a claim to know “what stuttering is.”
It struck me as odd, because I can think of very few stuttering organizations that don’t make a bold claim to know what stuttering is on their websites.
Here’s just a sampling:
- "Stuttering is a communication disorder involving disruptions, or “disfluencies,” in a person’s speech." National Stuttering Association (NSA)
- "Stuttering affects the fluency of speech. It begins during childhood and, in some cases, lasts throughout life. The disorder is characterized by disruptions in the production of speech sounds, also called ‘disfluencies.’" American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
- “Stuttering is a communication disorder in which the flow of speech is broken by repetitions (li-li-like this), prolongations (lllllike this), or abnormal stoppages (no sound) of sounds and syllables.” The Stuttering Foundation
- “Stuttering is a complex communication disorder that affects approximately 1% of the population (over 68 million people) and 3 million Americans.” FRIENDS
- “Stuttering is a complex and often-misunderstood communication disorder that can cause interruptions in a person’s speech.” Stuttering Association for the Young (SAY)
These are by and large wonderful organizations, and the majority of these definitions go on to discuss not only the various manifestations of stuttered speech (repetitions, prolongations, etc.), but the social and lifestyle impacts of stuttering. My point is simply that every one of them is making a bold truth claim about “what stuttering is.” What’s more, every one of them is agreeing that stuttering is foremost a disorder. Stuttering is being presented outright as a medical/biological/pathological problem contained within an individual’s body. I can’t think of a more direct way of telling a person who stutters what their stutter is and how they should feel about it.
Given this climate, it is no wonder that Did I Stutter’s contrary claim that stuttering is absolutely not a medical or pathological disorder, but is rather a social discrimination, is indeed a new and unique statement. My point is simply that what is new about Did I Stutter’s claim is its content, not the fact that they would boldly claim to know what stuttering is. Indeed, medical professionals, SLPs, self-help organizations and the world at large have been telling us stuttering is a disorder in equally bold terms for all our lives.
Following the disability rights movement and the decades of research it has produced, Did I Stutter is refusing to reduce social differences to medical disorders, or let the language of “conditions” and “pathologies” define how we relate to our bodies. I understand the defensiveness that comes from being told what stuttering is, because it is that same defensiveness that fueled Did I Stutter’s opposing claim. I for one am tired and insulted by hearing stuttering voices referred to as disorders, and am grateful to read stuttering boldly defined as something else entirely. It is time for the world to start accepting that there is truly nothing wrong with stuttering.