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.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Bilal

    Stammering certainly isn’t a disability so it shouldn’t be treated like one.I also eat up words some times so I am working on my tongue.I am trying to change my speaking habits by talking a lot slowly now.Recommend

  • Patty McMillin Reed

    Great article, but “stuttering, stammering, and lisping” makes it appear
    that stuttering and stammering are different and they are two words for
    the same condition. The Stuttering Foundation reaches out to educate
    teachers and employers by providing free online resources that include a
    brochure that can be taken to an interview. Those who stutter can be
    better employees than those who don’t stutter!Recommend

  • Zohair

    very well written.more power to your friend!Recommend

  • knightridrr

    I felt sorry for your friend reading this article. The best thing you can do is reassure your friend is that there is nothing wrong with her.Recommend

  • Naeem Nur

    people stare at my non-verbal autistic brother in the street like they have seen a monster.Recommend

  • katharyne

    Stuttering and stammering is a disability, they are two different words that are used to describe a difficulty in speaking. It all depends on which part of the world you were born, Europeans tend to say stammer and others tend to say stutter. No matter what you call it, it is a disability because it keeps that individual from living there life the way they want to. I have been stuttering/stammering my whole life and could not even order food at a restaurant until i was 25. That is a disability.Recommend

  • Heather

    Stammering is the UK name for the specific fluency disorder commonly called stuttering in the United States. It is a disability, and is legally defined as such in America under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Not sure about the UK. It’s a neurological condition with a genetic predisposition. Most people who stutter prefer to be called as such, or PWS’s. Recommend

  • SophiaMaria

    I’m a person who stutters and I also work in the disability field, so the realization that John Travolta has dyslexia gave me pause when considering his gaffe. However, as a person who makes his living as an actor, and who has obviously learned how to manage his dyslexia in reading, memorizing, and speaking hundreds of pages of lines throughout his career, he should have known how to read, memorize, and speak his lines in this case. They have rehearsals for the announcers, and he should have known the name of the person he was introducing ahead of time and figured it out.Recommend

  • SophiaMaria

    It is recognized as a disability in the US. It meets the criteria of a disability as something that impacts a major life function. For people who have a severe stutter, it can certainly impact the major life function of speaking.Recommend

  • Zuhaib

    @writer check ur email mam. Just sent you some more facts about stammering..Recommend

  • Ahmad

    your article indeed should be the best moral booster for your friend ……..tell her that NEVER GIVE IN and PRAY FOR HERSELF and dont pay any attention to people like these…………..Recommend

  • Junaid Paul

    I am a person who stammers so i can understand her feelings. That’s totally unfair. People consider people who stutter as inferior or lesser human beings as they make it social stigma . I think laws against such unfair discrimination for people who stutter should be introduced.Recommend

  • Alex

    It’s recognised as a disability in the UK (Equality Act 2010) and most developed countries.Recommend

  • Alex

    I have a stammer (stammer/stutter = two names for the same condition, ‘stammer’ being more common in the UK/Commonwealth) and can totally relate to this. I have a BA (Hons) in Politics and International Relations and a MSc in Social Work, but people still talk to me as though I am an idiot. I have an interview for a job as a children’s social worker next week, I’ll try and keep my nerves at bay so that I can kick-start the career I want and move out of the utter dive that I live in!Recommend

  • RM

    Thank you for writing this. I stutter and I’ve had many problems dealing with interviewers, employers and everyday interactions. People have given me every reaction from condescending to treating me like a child. The best reaction to a person with a stutter is not to be too freaked out by it, it does take getting used to hearing. Speech impediments are so misunderstood.Recommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    the Prophet Moses & US Vice President Joe Biden used to stutter, and there many famous actors and singers that used/still do stutter, so just because you stutter that doesn’t many you can’t have a successful career!Recommend

  • MelCooley

    The website of the non-profit charity The Stuttering Foundation ( has a fascinating list of “Famous People Who Stutter” with names like Marilyn Monroe, Emily Blunt, James Earl Jiones, Eric Roberts, Nicole Kidman and many more. There is also a “Celebrity Corner” section with in-depth articles on these famous stammerers such as Bruce Willis, Lewis Carroll, Gareth Gates and many more. Bruce Willis was a bad stammerer until age 19 when he found that the combination of acting and speech therapy led him to fluency. There are many famous stammerers, ex-stammerers, and stammerers who still use neat tricks that bring them fluency while they still may stammer in private.Recommend

  • anna

    Thank you for the information on stuttering. it;s really a nice
    information and helpful for everyone who stutter. anyone who want to
    overcome from this disability can visit the website http://
    here you will get the solution of your stuttering.Recommend