Stop making fun of people who stutter!

Published: March 4, 2014

Travolta's slight stammer at the Oscars caused some hype as viewers did not hesitate to bash him on social media – in ‘good humour’ of course. PHOTO: AFP

I had come to believe that people in our country had developed a better understanding of disabilities and that there was an increase in the acceptance for people with disabilities or minor disorders in educational institutions and the work place.

However, I was knocked out of my nutshell a few days ago when an incident with a friend made me realise that people here are not even able to differentiate between disabilities and minor disorders such as stuttering or stammering.

A few days ago, my friend who has had a stuttering problem since childhood, was called in for a summer internship interview at an esteemed multinational after clearing the written test.

As always, her stuttering alarmed the interviewer who asked her to calm down and not be nervous. And as usual, she replied politely and explained her condition. This is something she experiences every time she introduces herself to a stranger, especially in formal scenarios such as interviews.

Usually the typical reaction is empathy. People nod their heads with a dumb expression on their faces as she speaks, as if to encourage her to go on, making her feel as if she is incapable of speaking; which I assure you, she is not.

Although it is somewhat understandable since people are not used to stuttering, the extreme cautiousness with which strangers usually approach people with this speech disorder is simply alarming.

This particular interview proceeded even more awkwardly than usual as the interviewer kept referring to her as ‘you people’ as if she were a separate specie. I would like to clarify here that people who stammer are completely normal, capable people who only have problems with speech, problems which at times cannot be cured, as in my friend’s case.

Therefore, please refrain from referring to them or to people with other disorders as if they are not normal. Thank you very much!

As the interview moved on, the interviewer kept confirming everything my friend said – her achievements and her experiences – as if in doubt. Again, please understand that people with any slight disorder, whether it is stuttering or lisping, are highly capable and competent beings. Their speaking disorder should not be confused with incapability.

As the highly awkward interview came to an end, my friend asked what the prospect was considering her problem. The extremely ‘sensitive’ interviewer replied,

“Well, we are a ‘for-profit’ organisation, so I don’t know.  I will have to see what our policy is regarding ‘you people’.”

Although my friend is used to the distressing reactions of people to her stuttering, this incident still managed to impair her morale. She blamed herself for her failure in the interview and was disturbed by the interviewer who seemed to doubt everything she said. Relaying the incident to me, she said,

“I’m so disappointed, it was more than usual.”

I tried to console her and said,

“Maybe because you were nervous.”

In a small voice, she mumbled,

“It’s just unfair.”

And of course, she was right.

You can’t control a disorder like speech problems and the worst is when people treat you differently and unfairly just because you have a stutter. My friend is a highly capable person but those who talk to her often end up making her feel even more conscious about her speech impediment. It never fails to surprise me as to how insensitive people can be.

Take John Travolta’s incident at the Oscars yesterday. He fumbled on Idina Menzel’s name while calling her up on stage and as it turns out; his fumble was caused due to his dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder, which is still misunderstood. His slight stammer caused some hype as viewers did not hesitate to bash him on social media – in ‘good humour’ of course. This just shows how misunderstood these deficiencies are across the world despite the general increase in awareness.



Although there might be a relative increase in the understanding of disabilities and their acceptance, such as the establishment of separate schools, specific quotas in workplaces and so forth but these two incidents made me realise the misconceptions that people still have regarding disorders such as stuttering, stammering and lisping.

It is extremely important for people to understand these disorders as their ignorance can lead to highly awkward and at times, even rude reactions which undermine the confidence of completely capable individuals.

Shahla Hameed

Shahla Hameed

A Mass Communication from NUST Islamabad, Shahla loves to read and has a passion for sketching and drawing.

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