Rodney Gabel, Binghamton University, State University of New York
President Joe Biden called for American unity after four years of political division and the associated “raging fire”. He promised to be president for all Americans. “I will fight as hard for those who didn’t support me as I did for those who did,” he said.
It was a message of hope and optimism. And while his intention was clearly to speak to all of America, his speech spoke to a particular community in a different way. The new president stutters, and his speech to the world was a powerful example for those millions of Americans who stutter like me.
When I was 11, my speech pathologist said to me, “Look, John Stossel (the television personality) is stuttering and he speaks wonderfully. You can do that too. “
My therapist tried to motivate me, but the message was that my goal should be to speak perfectly.
It wasn’t the case for me. When I was 14, I already knew my stutter was going nowhere. Although I’m a pretty strong communicator, I continue to experience stuttering – a neurological disorder that affects fluid, forward-flowing language production.
Like me, about 1% of the world’s population stutters. That equates to more than 70 million people worldwide and over 3 million people in the US, including Biden.
Biden’s experience with stuttering is compelling. What inspires me is the way he talks about his experience as a stuttering person. For people who stutter, the presidential campaign, Biden’s election, and his inauguration are a major change in the way we talk about stuttering.
A need for understanding
People who stutter are often discriminated against at work, as students, and in social relationships.
Several studies show that the general population knows very little about stuttering. Many Americans also believe that people who stutter are less intelligent, less competent, and more fearful.
Even though I was surrounded by good friends, it felt very lonely being a kid who stutters. I was bullied and teased by my colleagues. People mimicked the way I spoke, interrupted me when I spoke, and even laughed when I stuttered.
Unfortunately, most of the role models were not helpful. Mel Tillis, the American country singer who used his stuttering as part of his stage personality, and Porky Pig, a stuttering cartoon character, were the target of jokes.
My goal became clear around my fifth birthday: I have to find a way not to stutter.
Many children who stutter today receive this message even though there is no “cure” for stuttering. Therapy and group support can help. But for many, stuttering requires attention for their entire life.
Biden holds out against bullies
Biden has spoken about his problems with stuttering in speeches for the National Stuttering Association and the American Institute for Stuttering.
But he had spoken sparingly about his stuttering in the mass media until his 2019 presidential campaign began. During the campaign season, President Donald Trump and his deputies began to take advantage of hesitation and other features of Biden’s speech.
During the campaign path, Trump called Biden “Sleepy Joe” and said he was out of touch. He said Biden had dementia. These insults were due in part to Biden’s age, but also to the differences in his language.
Biden responded to former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders who poked fun at his stuttering during a 2019 Democratic presidential debate.
“I’ve worked all my life trying to overcome stuttering. And it’s a great honor for me to look after children who have experienced the same thing. It’s called empathy. Look it up, ”Biden said on Twitter.
During a CNN town hall in February 2020, he said he kept stuttering when tired.
That was good for me to hear, and I think good for other people who stutter. Talking about stuttering instead of trying to hide it is an important part of coping.
Biden also chose Brayden Harrington to speak at the virtual Democratic National Convention. Harrington, a teenager who stutters, shared how Biden helped him in 2019 by telling him it was okay to stutter.
He also shared how the former vice president kept in touch. “Joe Biden cares,” Harrington said during his speech.
To me, it felt like stuttering was finally being discussed publicly and positively.
The first president to stutter
Of course, Biden’s election as president is important for many reasons.
I suspect that more news articles and opinion pieces about stuttering have been published in major newspapers in the past 18 months than in the past 18 years.
This is important because it raises awareness of stuttering and helps members of the stuttering community feel connected to others who are also stuttering and helps us all understand their struggles.
Biden is a major role model because he started speaking openly about stuttering and because he has shown that you can still stutter while communicating well and achieving amazing goals.
Rodney Gabel, Professor and Founding Director, Binghamton University, State University of New York
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.