Disability Studies: Myself as I am, Not as Others See Me


This is a continuation of our series on Disability Studies as it relates to stuttering. Carolina Ayala's thesis research paper, Myself As I am, Not as Others See Me: Stuttering, Identity and Acceptance was submitted to the Graduate Program in Critical Disability Studies at York University in 2009.


In her graduate paper, Carolina Ayala uses the principle of autoethnography to explore the issues surrounding how people who stutter cope in society, based on her own personal experiences. Citing the work of Carolyn Ellis, the term is defined as "connecting the autobiographical and personal to the cultural and social." This involves using personal stories and emotional recall of events that helped shape her identity as a disabled person, namely a person who stutters. Each situation, her reaction and the outcome of it, is analyzed from the perspective of others involved and in terms of issues relevant to Disability Studies. By doing so, the author "achieves freedom from these experiences through analysis and contextualization."

Incident 1

The first incident takes place in Junior High. The author is being featured in a documentary about stuttering, and a film crew visits her high school. Some popular girls who have been mean and teased her in the past start to be friendlier, presumably for the sake of the cameras. This produces conflicting emotions in the author, as she had always wanted to be accepted by the "in-crowd" but knows that in this case their acceptance is phony. She is not able at that time to confront and expose the girls for their hypocritical behaviour. In analyzing this incident, teasing and bullying and the "outsider" complex is addressed.

Incident 2

The next incident takes place in High School. The author had researched and rehearsed for an oral presentation she was supposed to give in class. In spite of the challenge it presents, she has prepared for it and is looking forward to doing it. When it comes time for her to present, her teacher tells her there is not enough time for her to give the presentation, and instructs her to give her notes to another student who will read them for her. In this case the author went to the principal to complain that she has been discriminated against. The principal says he will speak to the teacher. This incident touches on the issue of how stuttering is stigmatized as being unproductive and inefficient, in a world that prizes super-efficiency.

Incident 3

The third incident occurs in the author's third year of an undergarduate degree at the University of Toronto. Some of her friends volunteer at the Communication Rehabilitation Centre, and the author thinks this is a good opportunity to offer her volunteer services and help others with communication difficulties. The process to volunteer involves a lengthy interview that is videotaped. The author is made nervous by the camera and it effects her speech, but she explains to the interviewer that her stuttering is not that severe during everyday personal exchanges. After an hour-long interview, the interviewer is very dismissive of her and tells her she does not qualify as a volunteer.

The author describes this as one of the lowest moments of her life. Not only is her offer of volunteer work rejected, but she is refused by an organization that is supposed to help disabled people. What hope was there, then, for her to ever get a job, anywhere? The analysis of this incident addresses the concept of "normal" -- an idea that surfaced in the 19th century industrialized age with the development of Statistics.

Incident 4

After a long study session at U of T's Scarborough Campus, the author calls a cab company that she often uses. It is late at night and the campus is deserted. She blocks badly on the first try and the operator hangs up on her. On her second try she makes additional effort to use speech techniques to address the operator and ask for a cab. The operator hears her this time, but mocks her way of speaking and hangs up on her again. She tries a third time and the operator again refuses to listen to her and hangs up on her before she can ask for a cab. By this time the author is worried, she is alone at night on a dark campus on which sexual assaults have recently been reported. On her fourth try she gets a different operator who is more patient, listens to her request and sends a cab.

The next day the author complains to the cab company, and the operator, against whom there have also been other complaints, is fired. The difficulties people who stutter when using the phone is addressed. Also, this is a good example of how Carolina is learning to advocate for herself, and educate the public about stuttering and how people who stutter should be treated.

Incident 5

The final incident described in the paper is the culmination of the work the author has done to preserve her self esteem and self respect in the face of abuse and discrimination and act as an advocate for people who stutter. With a friend, she stops at McDonalds and, after ordering her meal at the counter and sitting down, she overhears the counter servers mimicking her stuttering and laughing. She approaches and hears people in the kitchen also mimicking and mocking her stuttering. She confronts them about it and they deny doing it. When she asks for the manager, he apologizes but she gets the names of all involved and contacts the head office about the incident.

The importance of support from others who stutter, namely the American organization, the National Stuttering Association (NSA), comes into play here. They support Carolina as she tries to get the attention of McDonalds head office in the hopes that they will better educate their servers in interacting with people who stutter and disabled people in general. The act of creating social change cannot be done by an individual, rather a group of people with common interest. It is in the interest of people who stutter to converge with the disabled community, in order to effectively fight marginalization and achieve their rights to inclusion and fairness in society. Sometimes disabled people, including stutterers, avoid contact with others like them for the fear of being further stigmatized. Carolina describes the strength she has received from being involved with the NSA and attending their conferences.


Carolina Carolina Ayala Carolina Ayala has her Masters in Critical Disability Studies from York University.  Her major research paper is about how her stuttering is affected by her listener. She enjoys a great life in Ajax, Ontario, and loves to swim, work out, teach college students about disability related issues, shop and engage in lively discussions about issues related to disability issues. She loves to meet more people so feel free to follow her on Twitter at istutr.
You can download her paper here. Please respect copyright and note that this paper cannot be reproduced in all or part without permission of the author.