DECEMBER - ELSA Board member Gina Waggott was a keynote speaker at the 2006 European Day of Disabled People conference, held at the European Commission HQ in Brussels...

Dec 06 - Gina Waggott of ELSA addresses the European Commission
Gina outsite  the EC Building
Gina outside the EC Building in Brussels, Belgium

The European Day of Disabled People takes place every year in December, however the 2006 Theme was "Youth". A conference was held at the European Commission, titled "Youth = Future: let's make an equal future for all". This took place from the 4-6 December, and was attended by over 250 young delegates amid key representatives from the European Commission, the European Parliament, European Union, and European Disability Forum.

As part of her role on the committee of the European Disability Forum, Gina Waggott of ELSA was asked to present a "personal case study" of stuttering as a keynote speaker. The issues raised were:

  • What stuttering is and how it feels, and how the various severities mean various forms of disablement

  • Stuttering is only obvious when someone opens their mouth to speak, and therefore it is unrecognised, unknown, and therefore prone to discrimination and ignorance.

  • Gina explained her roles in ELSA, the EDF, and recently, the BBC. She explained that ELSA only operated in a voluntary capacity because of lack of funding for smaller NGOs from the EC.

  • Personal experience in education throughout life… Gina explained that she was “passed over” in school for presentations, reading in class, and was discriminated against in oral exams because the teachers were misinformed about stuttering. She reiterated that stutterers were being denied access to a “normal” education due to these barriers.

  • Gina said that the social penalty of stuttering was so acute, most stutterers do not go on to further education (University etc) due to the associated problems such as giving presentations again, but also being unable to socialise and interact with peers in the way others can. She pointed out that the disability sector often speaks of “participation” yet people who stutter cannot participate because the very nature of the disability means that their needs cannot be expressed verbally.

  • Gina called for changes in the school curriculum where a reasonable alternative to oral participation in exams and the classroom should be addressed.

  • Personal experience of employment throughout life… Gina explained that ignorance, discrimination and lack of participation for stutterers exists in the labour market as it does in the education field. She said that stuttering is unique because there is no consistency, throughout Europe and the rest of the world, where stuttering is officially recognised as a disability. Until such consistency exists, some stutterers in some countries (where it isn’t recognised) cannot benefit from anti-discrimination law.

  • She explained that people who stutter often take jobs below their ability as they avoid speaking tasks and situations at work, and are unable to create a good impression in a job interview. Gina spoke about the time she was fired from a job, was told specifically that it was because of her speech, yet they could get away with such a disgrace because (at that time) stuttering was not recognised under the DDA in the UK.
  • In summary: Gina stated that there were obvious parallels between stuttering and all other disabilities, where problems stem from lack of awareness and education. The EDF Youth Committee had proposed “disability awareness training” to be introduced in schools at an early age, encouraging openness and respect to those who are different, and especially for teachers who are unaware of developmental problems (like stuttering, dyslexia, autism) that largely go untreated or unrecognised. If we do not educate others – nobody else will. This applies to all disabilities.

More photos from the conference coming soon!

The International Stuttering Association
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