If you are a person who stutters, or the parent of a child who stutters, it will come as no surprise to you that stuttering can often be misunderstood.
For more than 75 years, the Stuttering Foundation has been working to break down myths and counter misinformation about stuttering—especially with people and organizations of authority, like police officers, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and now, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) staff.
Recently, we were contacted by a woman who stutters about her experience renewing her driver’s license at her state DMV. During the mandatory vision exam portion, she had a problem with her eye test. That difficulty, coupled with her stutter, led to her being flagged, and required a mental health exam to complete her license renewal. As you might imagine, she experienced a wide range of emotions during her time at the DMV, and ultimately found herself frustrated and angry. She turned to the Stuttering Foundation for help.
“When people stutter, their difficulties getting words out are sometimes misinterpreted as resulting from nervousness or even mental health conditions,” said Ellen M. Kelly, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-F, Vice President for Professional Development at the Stuttering Foundation. “This is not the case. As for any speaker, situations that are less familiar or challenging may increase the frequency of interruptions in speech, including stuttering. The challenge is with talking and is not symptomatic of a mental disorder.”
In 2016, we learned of an American citizen who stutters returning to the U.S. from overseas travel being questioned repeatedly by CBP at the airport. At one point, the traveler was accused of lying about her stutter. As a result, she helped the Stuttering Foundation design and launch its “I Stutter Card” to assist people who stutter in challenging the misunderstandings faced during everyday interactions with people who may not be familiar with stuttering.
Since creating and sharing the “I Stutter Card” on our website, and social media channels, we have heard from numerous people who have used the card to educate and inform those who may question their ability to speak fluently during an interaction. One gentleman, experiencing worsening stuttering during Parkinson’s Disease progression, told of its use when stopped by a police officer while walking in his neighborhood.
At the Stuttering Foundation, we are thankful for the efficacy of the “I Stutter Card” as well as efforts people who stutter have undertaken to use it to provide accurate information about stuttering and people who stutter. Borrowing a classic tagline from American Express from few decades ago, our recommendation is “Don’t leave home without it!”
From the 2023 Summer Magazine