The quote that started National Stuttering Awareness Week in the United States! And who knew it had two histories? I like this quote because it puts the person first, stuttering second and emphasizes that stuttering is only something we do.
I first came across this quote in 2012 when my friend and fellow stutterer, Evan Sherman, named his podcast and blog “I Stutter, So What?”. Complete with a banner of a cartoon chipping away at the stuttering iceberg. Quite fitting for someone who received the 2011 NSA Chapter Leader of the Year Award for his work in spreading stuttering awareness in the media.
“I just sort of came up with it”, Evan told me during an online interview. “My feeling was you can still be who you want to be, achieve what you want to achieve regardless of how you speak.” The speech language pathologist and former Stutter Social host who lives with his family in Florida, has always been a champion for making a difference in how fluent people talk about stuttering and how they react to people who stutter.
Smashing insults on Twitter
For instance, when Evan launched his blog, he also regularly replied to tweets that insulted people who stutter. “I’d tweet back something like ‘The next time you encounter someone who stutters, listen to what they say. It may be important.’”, as Evan explained on the Stuttering is Cool podcast at the time.
I asked Evan if he ever received negative replies. “Yes, I got the nasty replies such as ‘Can’t you take a j-j-j-joke?’ but I don’t reply to them because they may actually think twice the next time they encounter a person who stutters. We can make a difference one person at a time. You can’t change the world but you can impact enough people so they can make an impact on the general population.”
After posting the origin story for the “I stutter and that’s ok because what I say is worth repeating” button last week and announcing the follow up would be on the “I stutter, so what” button, another friend of mine, Paul Castellano, mentioned that he came up with the quote as back in 1986! It’s a coincidence that both he and Evan thought of the same thing at different points in time.
“I ran for State Representative”, Paul reminisced. “During my door to door campaigning, it became painfully evident of the lack of understanding with regards to stuttering. It was very frustrating, and painful. It caused me to stop campaigning.”
T-shirts and research
The community activist and now retired traffic engineer who lives with his wife, Sally, in Ohio, USA, grew into his 20s with 90% of his speech stuttered. Despite having gained the confidence to speak and not hide his stuttering after taking speech therapy in the 1970s, his campaigning experiences led him to think of ways to let people knew he stuttered before he began to speak. “I wanted to shout it out in no uncertain terms, ‘I Stutter SO WHAT’.” The pain and frustration is what lead to design it on a T-shirt.
Paul wore the T-shirt everywhere he went. “I made more shirts and brought them to the NSA Conference in Houston in 1988. An speech language pathology professor from the University of Wisconsin bought several of them. He took them back to his students and conducted a study on the effects of wearing the T-shirt. He sent me the results later that year. The results of the study were 97% positive in making people more aware of stuttering, and stimulating conversations with regards to how to respond, and interact with a person who stutters.”
Creating National Stuttering Awareness Week
Then Paul surprised me with the next milestone in this quote’s history – “The failures of my campaign also led to the creation of National Stuttering Awareness Week” which will mark its 30th year in 2018.
After failing to run for state office, Paul realized that what was needed was national awareness with regards to stuttering. May was already Better Speech and Hearing Month which made it the perfect fit for National Stuttering Awareness Week. “It took Delaware NSA chapter leader, Barbara Hubbard Kovel, and me 18 months to get it passed by the Congress of the US.”
Paul shared, “I’ve found that when I became less concerned with how I spoke, the easier it was for me to talk, and I believe more fluently. For I now have the confidence to speak openly any place, any time.”
Paul went on to become a civic leader, got involved in state politics, and as mentioned earlier, led a career as a Traffic Studies Engineer. All this put him in public contact every day giving presentations, workshops, interviews, and many telephone calls. “All the things we love to do. LOL”
The “I stutter so what” button makes a great accessory for National Stuttering Awareness Week, International Stuttering Awareness Day which takes place every year on October 22, and any day of the year! It is available in the Stuttering Awareness collection of five buttons starring Franky Banky, a cartoon fox who stutters who appears throughout my stuttering survival book entitled Stuttering is Cool: A Guide to Stuttering in a Fast-Talking World. You can purchase both in the Stuttering is Cool Online Shop.