Monthly Archives: August 2014

Reflections on my first BSA Conference: inspiration, connection, courage and community

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A week later and I am still feeling buoyed up by the positivity of the British Stammering Association’s National 2014 Conference, held in association with the Scottish Stammering Network in Glasgow. I was not sure what to expect as I made the long train journey north on Friday 22nd August, arriving just in time to attend the City Hall drinks – a grand and fitting social event to mark the beginning of the conference.

Conversations flowed as readily as the wine – with old friendships quickly renewed and new friendships founded. I was struck by the warmth, energy and harmonious chatter as the evening progressed – and which set the tone for the rest of the weekend. People mixed and mingled freely at mealtimes, between presentations and late into the night. It soon became apparent that the social aspect was an integral part of the conference’s success for many of the delegates – as the early morning photos at George’s Square clearly testify!

Significant highlights for me included:

  • Iain Wilkie’s keynote on ‘Transforming Employability’. Drawing on research highlighting employers’ ignorance and misunderstanding of stammering, Iain outlined the evolution of Ernst and Young’s ‘Stammering Network’ since its inception in 2011, which led to the launch of the ‘Employers Stammering Network’ (ESN), a BSA supported initiative, in 2013. Combining personal and corporate narratives interspersed with thought-provoking quotations, Iain advocated a cultural shift towards diversity and inclusiveness underpinned by flexible support processes involving the shared commitment of both employers and employees. To this end he invited all present to open up dialogues about stammering at work in the understanding that ‘there is no courageous conversation without vulnerability’. More information can be found on the BSA website: www.stammering.org/help-information/professionals-and-business/businesses/unlocking-talent-employers-stammering-network
  • Co-presenting with Katy Bailey (www.free-speech.org.uk) on the relevance of the social model of disability for stammering and employment. Relocating the problem of stammering in society and offering participants a chance to identify the physical and attitudinal barriers experienced in the workplace enabled us to explore how prevailing norms, language and stereotypes can go unchallenged and become insidiously internalised. Practical ways of managing these oppressive external and internal barriers were then discussed. Here is our handout if you are interested in finding out more.
  • Dr Allan McGroarty’s reflections on ‘Dr Quack and his stammer cure: quick fixes, bogus treatments and charlatans’. An amusing and informative review on how to spot a ‘Quack’ following the growth of the Internet and social media. Allan concluded by reflecting on the important role that the stammering and professional communities need to play in questioning and challenging false claims about stammering therapy in the public domain.
  • RSM Jimmy Lang’s motivational speech on ‘Reaching the Top’. The sheer grit, determination and resilience that Jimmy has applied to progressing his career in the army are truly impressive. Furthermore, his willingness and commitment to using his experience and influence to benefit others has resulted in the Defence College of Health Education & Training (DCHET) joining the ESN and developing clearer systems and support processes for other military personnel who stammer. Jimmy’s personal story offered a direct and powerful challenge to the ‘why try?’ effect often reported in the research (Corrigan et al., 2009; Boyle, 2013) due to the internalisation of public stigma. Exposure to Jimmy’s encouraging and constructive ‘can do’ attitude was particularly timely for the student I sat next to, who was contemplating a career in speech and language therapy and questioning the implications having a stammer would have.
  • Convincing reports on the BSA impact at the AGM, with a persuasive video testimonial on the successful Facebook page, underscored the need for greater involvement in fundraising in order to safeguard the future of the BSA: “Ask not what the BSA can do for you, ask what you can do for the BSA!”
  • The Gala dinner at the spectacular Science Centre followed by a highly entertaining impromptu exploration of Glasgow’s nightlife.
  • Bob Adam’s and Trev Bradley’s dynamic, engaging and practical workshop on ‘staying safe on the streets’ – a salient reminder given the unfortunate mugging of one of the conference delegates in the early hours of Sunday morning.
  • The infamous ‘Open Mike’ session where delegates queued for the entire 90-minute session to speak out in front of the bigger group – many for the first time, some to share their conference reflections, others to signpost a helpful resource (e.g. the Opening Doors employment course run jointly by City Lit and the BSA) and one person to get some practice in before his daughter’s wedding later this year!

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who made the 2014 conference possible, especially David Lilburn and John Mann, and to everyone who came and contributed to such a lively and memorable weekend.

In the online feedback, I was set the task of capturing the essence of the conference in four words. They would have to be: inspiration, connection, courage and community.

The next BSA conference is scheduled for 2016 – I’d highly recommend making a note in your diary now!

Sam

Boyle, M. (2013) Assessment of stigma associated with stuttering: Development and evaluation of the Self-Stigma of Stuttering Scale (4S). Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 56, 1517-1529.

Corrigan P., Larson J. & Rusch N. (2009) Self-stigma and the “why-try” effect: impact on life goals and evidence-based practices. World Psychiatry, 8, 75-81.

 

 

Stammering and the social model of disability: challenge and opportunity

Where does the real problem of stammering lie?

How does society communicate its values and norms about fluency and how does this affect people who stammer?

How does the SLT tread the delicate path between helping their client manage their stammering more effectively (and increase ease of communication) without reinforcing unhelpful ideas about stammering (and fluency)?

These are just some of the questions Katy Bailey, Sam Simpson and I posed in a joint presentation to the Oxford Dysfluency Conference on 19 July 2014.

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At the presentation’s heart was a conviction we all share that the social model of disability has much to tell us – people who stammer, speech and language therapists, and wider society – about stammering, and how by working together we can challenge and overcome some of the stigma out there and self-oppression in here which can make life so difficult for those of us who stammer.

Katy began by tracing the origins and development of the social model in the disabled people’s movement which disputed the traditional medical conception of disability as the individual’s problem requiring impairment expertise, cure, therapy and care. Instead, the social model locates the ‘problem’ of disability in society: in the physical barriers, but also in the negative stereotypes and prejudices which can push disabled people to the margins of society, whilst upholding powerful notions of ‘normality’. The physical barrier of a voicemail which does not let me finish saying my name may be familiar to people who stammer, but far more insidious and interesting for me is the stigma around stammering which operates along psychological and emotional pathways, and is there, Katy argues, in the struggle of stammering itself.

Sam then recounted her own development as a speech and language therapist and the disturbing realisation that she was training within a tradition firmly underpinned by the medical model in which she, the ‘impairment expert’ was expected to ‘fix’ and restore the client to normality (fluency), without any awareness of the social norms and stigma the therapy was reinforcing. Times have moved on since then – Sam’s book which she co-edited with Carolyn Cheasman and Rachel Everard, Stammering Therapy from the Inside is evidence enough – but there is still plenty of stammering therapy for which fluency is the overriding preoccupation, and which fails to take the client’s voice into account, and to grasp the broader factors of self-identity, society and social stigma.

Finally, I assessed some of the cultural pressures we face: the performance-driven and perfectionist zeitgeist in which we live and the haunting and destructive appeal of the ‘fluency god’ which I am happy to say more and more people who stammer are starting to renounce. That certainly seems to be the impression I get from a range of blogs, podcasts and websites: StutterTalk, Stuttering is Cool, British Stammering Association, Free Speech, Diary of a Stutterer and the latest, Did I Stutter? project. If you haven’t done so already, check them out! The internet and social media has been a wonderful way of bringing people who stammer together, to share our stories, insights and experiences, and to provide some collective resistance to the powerful social norms which tell us either to keep quiet and get it fixed, or at least to keep up the façade of fluency. This is the good news. And the other piece of good news is that speech and language therapists also have an important part to play in helping people who stammer overcome these barriers. Approaches such as mindfulness and cognitive behaviour therapy enable us to look at our thoughts around stammering differently, and foster healthier and more self-accepting thoughts and behaviours. There is much good work to build on, and more opportunity to continue this conversation between therapists, clients and self-help groups on how we can all work together to help people who stammer on our ongoing journey from oppression to liberation.

St John Harris
website: www.free-speech.org.uk

email: stjohn.harris@free-speech.org.uk
twitter: @StJohnHarris