I think one of the most challenging parts of my cerebral palsy is having a speech impairment, because it challenges the people I meet everyday. I think for a number of reasons, its still remains a less socially acceptable difficulty, in comparison to using a wheelchair for example, because the inability of listeners to understand every word I am saying causes them embarrassment and makes them feel awkward.
But my biggest frustration about having a speech impairment has always been that it makes others assume I have learning difficulties, although in recent years I have realised it is not that simple. It is indeed true that as someone growing up, who was with above average intelligence, I hated the fact people often assume I had learning difficulties as they would talk down to me, especially when I was clearly the more intelligent person in the conversation. But I have realised that people with learning difficulties also hate being treated in this way, and that it is wrong for anyone to be patronised in a way I have encountered too many times to count or remember.
An example of what I am talking about in terms of what people with learning difficulties experience, and therefore people with speech impairments experience, is an allegation at the recent local elections that a prospective councillor questioned whether someone with learning difficulties was allowed to vote, asking them what they were doing at the polling station! This is sadly not surprising to me, and offers a taste of the prejudices 'we' face.
I seem to experience the most prejudices due to my speech impairment on the phone, a device I find stressful, even when my personal assistant is translating for me. The amount of times I have had people from big name companies put the phone down on me, because they were unwilling to try to listen to me, has been countless. What is more annoying is the fact they refuse to see this refusal to serve me as an act of discrimination in exactly the same way as if they had refused me from entering their shop!
And here is where we can understand the real prejudices many disabled people face, the fact that the prejudice we face is not even acknowledge as prejudice, since people were 'only doing their best' or 'they are just ignorant'. I may receive a half hearted apology for 'how I feel', but I am not compensated for the distress caused, or are they prepared to it seriously enough to ensure it never happens again. Because while sexism and racism may not be fully eliminated, people know what it is and will name and shame those who are sexist or racists, prejudice towards disabled people is just beginning to be taken seriously, and we have a long way to go before society understands the prejudices and react accordingly.
But having a speech impairment is not without its advantages, the main one being the awkwardness others have when they are confronted with me often puts me in the driving seat as they are stunned with embarrassment, I call it the power of freakism, and its very handy when I need to take control of matters. I also think there is nothing more frightening then being confronted by an 'angry spastic' with a speech impairment, which is something that you would definitely wish to avoid if you can. And on the softer side, I can sometimes swear in more public situations as people either do not understand me, or have the ability to pretend they did not understand!
I think one of the earliest benefits I remember was in school when I put my hand up in class and gave the wrong answer, but the teacher misunderstood it as the right answer, which I would have no problem taking credit for. Whether it is right or wrong, we need to take advantage of what we have, not worry about what we do not have. If I weigh up the prejudices I have experienced, with the 'perks of the job', I am still owed much more than I have ever taken.
I believe that the taboos related to speech impairments and learning difficulties will slowly disappear as we are seen more in public and in the media, and this is why I am proud to do my part to push the boundaries by appearing in "I'm Spazticus" on Channel 4, and continue in my work to demonstrate having a speech impairment does not and will not stop me achieving what I want!