Young Kildare woman Sandra Kelly is the picture of self-confidence. But behind her good looks and bright smile, she bears all the mental scars of life with a stutter.
In order to help shine a light on the daily challenges that people living with a stutter have to endure, Sandra recently did what many of her fellow sufferers might have thought impossible – she did a live interview on one of Ireland’s most listened to radio programmes, the Ryan Tubridy Show.
“I did the radio interview recently with Ryan Tubridy because I wanted to highlight the discrimination that people with a stutter often receive in society. I get laughed at in to my face in shops and restaurants. I feel I get constantly intimidated by people who label me as ‘stupid’,” said Sandra, a Clerical Officer with the Mental Health Service CHO7.
She feels that part of the problem is that people are not educated about stuttering.
“Stuttering is not classed as a disability but I would like this changed. People seem to think that stuttering is something to laugh at. Until you stutter, you have no idea the torture of being lost for words. It is a dreadful cross to bear. People need to be a bit more kind towards each other,” explained Sandra.
Sandra first started to stutter at the age of about three. She was brought to speech therapy at a very young age but this did not help her in any way. Primary school was not so bad but the trouble started in secondary school.
“I was bullied badly by other students, who constantly mocked how I spoke. Although I was very academically bright in school, I felt that I was labelled as stupid and not intelligent. I took a job in a fast food restaurant after I finished school because I felt this was all I was capable of,” she said.
“I used to carry around a pen and notebook in my handbag and used this to write down things like if I needed a bus ticket, I would write it down and hand it to the driver. This saved so much humiliation. I only ever ordered chicken nuggets and chips anywhere I went because this was all I could say.
“Because the hardest thing to say for a person who stutters is their name, I would often tell people my name was something other than Sandra. I used to walk with my head looking at the ground praying that nobody would speak to me or ask me a question. Things like getting a taxi home from a night out was a massive problem. I could not say my address, so I used to get the taxi to drop me off at an address near where I lived and I would walk the rest of the way. For many years, my mobile phone was used only for text messages.”
She explained that people finishing words and sentences for people who stutter is a huge issue for her.
“That is actually the worst thing – it’s dreadful. Like, it actually makes you stutter worse... It makes you feel so stupid and so intimidated,” said Sandra.
Sandra took part in the McGuire Programme, run entirely by people who stutter, back in 2004.
“When I walked in to the room on the Wednesday evening, it was the first time that I have ever met another person who stutters. The programme is not a cure for stuttering, but if you work hard, you can train yourself to speak through the costal diaphragm that people use for singing. This programme brought me a lot of positive things over the years. I did public speaking on soap boxes in busy shopping streets, radio interviews, and newspapers articles. I was also a primary coach on the programme for many years. It also gave me confidence to get my job with the HSE.”