When I was younger, I had a fairly severe speech impediment. It’s not as bad now but it’s still there, especially when I’m feeling particularly anxious. I used to have speech therapy for it but it stopped – I think I was about 11 at the time but I could easily be remembering incorrectly! I think there’s an assumption that a speech impediment is a childish thing, and in my experience you can see that in the resources available (or you certainly could when I was having speech therapy, I would hope that things have changed for the better in the last couple of decades!)

When I started at secondary school, I remember one of the other students in the class asking my friend if she could translate because she ‘didn’t understand a word she’s saying’. This would have been about 18 years ago and yet I still remember it, and feeling utterly humiliated.

The two main long term effects for me have been a terror of speaking on the phone and of public speaking. I remember how scared I was the first time I presented at a conference, that I wouldn’t be understood or that people would laugh at me. Fortunately, it seemed to go well but even now I still have that same fear beforehand.

One thing that has helped immeasurably (not with the impediment itself, but with my own feelings about it) is seeing people in prominent and public roles with speech impediments – at the moment, Biden is probably the best example. I dislike using the word inspirational – I think it puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on someone, among other things – but it does reassure me that speaking in public, even though it can often be really hard is possible, and that the content of what I’m saying is more important than how I say it. Representation is important – whether it’s seeing people who sound like you, or who look like you.

I will never enjoy speaking on the phone (in fact I’ve already not answered my phone twice today, although once I was asleep and once it was a private number) and listening to recordings of me speak still makes me cringe, but (for me, anyway) it is not the most important thing about me.

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