A Cure in Search of a Fix

Submitted By:
Stephen J. Valentine, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair, NJ

Stammer Time by Barry Yeoman
The Baffler, November 2019

In "Stammer Time," journalist Barry Yeoman looks beyond the medical model of disability in a way that is both informative and inspiring. Stuttering, which affects about one percent of the population, is his anchor, and he begins with a simple enough story about attending an annual conference for stutters. The situation becomes existential and dire when a research funding pitch is shared with the participants: if you could contribute to a cure for stuttering, "[freeing] the voices of millions of Americans," would you? The question affects the author, and some of his associates and friends at the conference, in a deeply personal way. In suggesting a balm or a "fix," it threatened to upend a close-knit community and indicated a demoralizing trend for those living with unique challenges. Positioning stuttering as a "pathology in search of neutralization" misses the opportunity to "reframe stuttering as a trait that confers transformative powers." Yeoman's essay becomes more universally applicable when he makes a quick, associative leap to other conditions that can be locked or unlocked by the language we use to describe them: autism can be viewed as a set of behaviors that need to be reduced and hidden or as a sign of neurodiversity that should be celebrated. And deafness can be framed as either "hearing loss" or "deaf gain." Yeoman's resounding question is one that could be asked of all schools that celebrate their inclusivity or their communities while sometimes signaling a passion for sameness:  "Can we stop believing that the problem lives inside our bodies? Might the problem lie in a society that, in its quest for order and efficiency, makes no accommodation for people who speak (or walk or think) differently?"

Psychology & Human Development