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Stammer Awareness Campaign

Statement from Professor Deborah Johnston, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Framework).

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Picture of Prof Deborah Johnston, Pro-Vice-Chancellor. Picture of Prof Deborah Johnston, Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

Prof Deborah Johnston, Pro-Vice-Chancellor;

" I was the first person in my family to do A levels and go to university.  After my undergraduate degree, I went on to do a master's and then a little later a Ph.D.  I’ve always stammered (or stuttered - they’re the same thing), and so do other people in my family, which is also quite common.  There seems to be a genetic link, and people are born with a predisposition to stammer.  Now my stammer isn’t very noticeable but it wasn’t always like that.  Looking back, I think that my stammer encouraged me to do well at school and university, essentially to prove people wrong about my abilities.  However, there were times when it felt like a massive obstacle.  I remember being terrified of reading aloud at school and having to do oral exams, for example in French.  Luckily at university, we didn’t have assessed oral exams in my subject, but I did have to do presentations and it always felt very hard.

I learned to live with my stammer through two things.  First, I did therapy and Toastmasters, so I got very used to public speaking.  Second, I also made a decision to educate myself about stammering.  It was surprising to me to learn that so much of what we might get told are actually myths.  So stammering isn’t about being nervous, uncertain, or trying to speak too fast.  Stammering is about the different ways my brain functions.  Essentially I learned that stammering was not my fault and that I needed to accept myself for who I was.  That was really empowering for me – and I decided that I needed to be an advocate for others who stammered.

I got involved in supporting students who stammered when I started teaching at university. I kept seeing more and more colleagues who used oral tests or assessment of presentations.  And I kept worrying about how much support was being put in place for students. There are really simple adjustments that can be made to assessments, or to teaching.  So that’s when I started to work with others to get the message out to academics.  I’m most proud of the guide we produced recently that gives lots of advice to lecturers and other university staff:

It's important that students who stammer don’t feel shy or embarrassed.  Stammering is not your fault and your contributions are as important as anyone else's.  Stammering is a speech difference, and it doesn’t have to be an obstacle.  Everyone has the right to speak and be listened to. There is lots of support out there, so do contact our DDS team or look at "




Here you can also find a short video made by our VP Welfare & Equalities Jannatul Ferdous and Beulah Samuel-Ogbu - Student at LSE, about stammering awareness



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