The Pilgrimage into the Mind Part 4: Is Stuttering a Disability?


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Nicolina Bilella, Staff Writer

We have all experienced stuttering in our lives, whether it be trying to regain your speech after getting nervous or after a frightening experience.  However, that is only a portion of what stuttering really is.  There has been some controversy around the classification of stuttering, debates on if it is a common response to fear or neurological.

There is no definitive example of stuttering, due to its wide range. According to the Better Health Channel, mild stuttering is categorized by stuttering below five percent of syllables, moderate stuttering is ten to fifteen percent of syllables stuttered, and severe stuttering is clarified as stuttering 20 percent of syllables.  

According to ASHAWIRE, in order to be officially disabled under the ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act) stuttering must be a physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities”.  

This has been tested with the cases of Zhong v. Tallahatchie Hospital and Extended Care Facility, as well as in Andresen v. Fuddruckers Inc. Min Zhong was a medical technologist who was fired in 1997 allegedly due to his occasional stuttering, his Chinese origin, and not being paid for working overtime.  The establishment stated he was fired for lack of skills.  This claim was proven by testimony of his coworkers, but it sparked debate about possibly prejudice against people who stutter.  

Futhermore, Barbara Andresen claims to have more trouble with her stuttering and has the label of severe stuttering by her speech pathologist.  She professes that her stuttering hinders her ability to speak quickly enough to hold a conversion on the phone and has difficulty with listeners understanding her.  Andresen worked for 16 years doing various jobs at Fuddruckers Incorporated.  The controversy started when Andresen worked as a preparatory cook and the company hired two managers at the St. Louis Park restaurant to improve the poor public image from the “unsanitary conditions”.  Andresen reports the managers required her to wear a surgical mask to keep her excess saliva in check, despite her claims that it was never a sanitary problem.  Also she allegedly heard one manager tell an associate manager they were, “going to find a way to get rid of Barb”  Andresen got fired because “she drooled and spit into food that she prepared and served to customers.”

These examples display that people who stutter suffer as a consequence of prejudice. One may argue that the mistreatment isn’t that harmful, however getting another job isn’t the easiest thing to do. Being unable to maintain a job can fall under the category of “major life activities”  because most people need a job to function in society.  Besides, speaking and communicating qualifies as a major life activity, as stated by American Institute for Stuttering.

In some countries, such as the United States of America and India, some care is provided for those who stutter.  The Georgia Disability Lawyer Blog tells us that speech disorders such as stuttering can qualify for the Social Security Disability Insurance Program because the stuttered words and syllables can impact a person’s ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively and “can often be humiliating for sufferers.”  According to the American Institute for Stuttering, there were laws created since the incidents previously mentioned that require employers to accommodate qualified individuals with disabilities. This refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which stuttering falls under. Another act is the Rights of Persons with Disability Act of 2016 that protects people in India who have a severe stutter.

Tune in next time for the next episode of The Pilgrimage Into the Mind series!