Who Gets To Make The Choice?
Posted June 14, 2011on:
I have never written about how I feel about stuttering being a disability. I have been asked about it and I have talked about it, both with those who stutter and those who don’t. I know disability can be a very contentious subject, because some feel strongly that stuttering is a disability and others feel if it doesn’t limit their life, then it’s not.
I believe that my stuttering is not a disability (there was a time it was). It does not substantially limit my ability to speak or communicate today, as defined by the American’s With Disability Act of 1990 (ADA), which was amended in 2008.
These days, I speak and communicate very effectively, even on the days when I stutter a lot. There was a time when I did not. I was so afraid of stuttering publicly and being judged, that I often opted out of speaking situations, or avoided. That fear was very disabling to me. I felt invisible.
The ADA definition of disability also means whether a person has a record of an impairment or is “regarded as having an impairment”, whether or not the impairment impedes a major life activity. Which in the case of stuttering, would be speaking and communication.
It’s this part that I want to speak to – being regarded as having a disability. I recently had a conversation with my supervisor about upcoming changes in my job assignment. My current position has been abolished effective June 30, and I have been laid off. I am hopeful that another position will be available for me to remain within the same organization.
My supervisor mentioned that the grant funding has changed direction. The major initiative of our grant will focus on ensuring access and equity of services and programs to special needs populations. This will include not only groups with disabilities, but also economically under-served groups.
My boss mentioned that I would be perfect for this position because of my disability. I was offended by how he said this. I don’t consider myself disabled, and am bothered that my boss obviously does. This is not the first reference he has made about stuttering as a disability.
Last year, when he did my annual evaluation and went over it with me, he said, “aren’t you proud of me that I didn’t use the term “disability” once in your evaluation?” And the year before that, after my first public speaking event at school, he commented, “you didn’t have to try to climb the mountain and ride your bicycle up it also all in the same night.”
When I had asked him what he had meant by that, he further explained, “if you knew you were going to butcher the kid’s names, why didn’t you ask someone else to read the names for you?” I remember writing about this before, and also remember how angry I felt by what he said.
There is a good chance I may get a position serving special populations (which I have been doing indirectly for a long time anyway). I will need to be an even louder advocate for those who can’t always advocate for themselves. I have been thinking a lot about where I stand on my stuttering being a disability.
Because I am known to stutter, therefore, I am obviously “regarded as” a stutterer, which fits the definition of disability under the ADA. But I don’t consider myself disabled. And my boss’s perception of me having a disability, while certainly not bad, somehow doesn’t sit right with me.
A friend of mine said that I should label my stuttering as a disability if I plan to move along with my small business. That it will net me more opportunities, being able to use the term “minority owned” business. Like getting two for the price of one. Being a woman and disabled would possibly steer more business my way.
I definitely don’t like the idea of “using the disability card.” But I know some people do, to move forward in life.
What do you think of this? Whose choice should it be to consider one’s stuttering a disability?