There are states where you can stand in three different states at one time. One foot in California and half a foot in Arizona and another half in Nevada. That is how I feel about my experience in the Disability community. I am what is called a overt person who stutters (PWS). I also have Language based Learning Disabilities (LD). That means that a combination of processing difficulties makes it sometimes difficult to understand language in auditory or written forms. It also gives me trouble when I write (like what I am doing now, I hate it and have vowed on my blog not to worry about grammar and spelling. So deal with it!). You would think this is a unique experience, but in reality, approximately 25% of PWS also have LD or ADHD (http://www.csun.edu/~ainslab/readings/PastLabMembers/Keren/Blood_Co-occuring-disorders-in-children-who-stutter.pdf).
I am the BOGO (Buy One Get One Free) of the Stuttering and LD communities. The problem with this BOGO experience is I don’t always feel like I fit into either world. Some PWS may use word substitution when they predict a stutter. They know they might stutter on Pizza so they say flatbread instead. Part of my LD is dysnomia, which means I have word finding difficulties. My covert stuttering friends can come up with 5 words for what they want to say. That is not going to happen for me! It is one or two words, and likely, the second word is likely going to be inappropriate (keep in mind I am a comedian). The combination of stuttering and language based learning disabilities means that I have one foot out of the Disability closet that many people who stutter or have LD remain in.
Whoa! Stuttering and Learning Disabilities are disabilities? This is a controversy in both communities. In fact, I don’t know if I can even say people who stutter or have LD see themselves in the Disability closet. Whenever I am in those distinct communities, I have the feeling that the PWS are looking at my like, “yuh, of course you identify as having a disability, you have problems learning.” Meanwhile I feel that the LD community is looking at me saying, “we have learning differences, but you have a disability because you have problems speaking.” That is when I run to the Disability community. There I can find commonalities but it is sometimes difficult to join the conversation. Even with my 8 and half years of college and $100g of student loan debit, I still can’t decipher the eloquent prose. Aside from a few people with TBI or Autism, I don’t see people in the Disability community who process information like I do. I am standing at the intersection of states where stuttering, learning disabilities and the activist Disability community crisscrosses and inspite of my many options I don’t always feel at home.
I don’t feel as though there is one place where I can bring all of myself into. Part of this problem is the difficulties in connecting my LD to the outside world. You experience so much of your LD in isolation and sometimes the only place you can identify that part of yourself that is dyslexic, dysnomic, or experiencing muddled language is when you meet others who experience the same and where the hell are my adult peers? Sometimes I question if there is an advantage of coming out of the Disability closet for someone with LD? I mean discrimination and myths about LD still exist and people don’t always know what their rights are.
Running from one community to the next is tiring! I am thankful for each community that I have but wished my LD peps would reveal themselves and I wish that social media was more accessible so that there was more access for them to the larger Disability community. I want my LD and Stuttering communities to know the things that people who have more apparent disabilities have taught me. From my hard of hearing dad, I learned to disclose my stuttering. From my friend Jody, who has CP, I have learned how to gracefully fall (metaphorically for myself) and owning my falling. From Disability activists like Lawrence Carter-Long I have learned to #SayTheWord Disabled. I don’t think calling myself Disabled is shameful or that I am focusing on my deficits. I see it as a political and social identity. I am 5th generation Italian American on my mom’s side and 4th generation Disabled American on my dad’s side (he’s Italian too, but that’s beside the point).
Because of the combination of my LD and stuttering I have one foot out of the Disabled closet. My stuttering becomes more apparent. Sometimes my language processing activates my stuttering because I get so overwhlemed using my left temporal lobe (where both stuttering and my particular LD live). I am thankful that I am a BOGO Disabled person because it has meant that I needed to find the Disabled community, I just wish sometimes the Disabled community would find us. I wish I wasn’t the only dyslexic in the stuttering group or the only person with something other than learning disabilities in the LD group. I wish the Disability community made better efforts to include people with LD in the community, even when we are fighting and screaming not to join you. If we are calling a Learning Disability a “difference,” please meet us with compassion. We all process our experiences in different ways and with the narratives that we have been exposed to. I mean, I don’t see much Disability Studies rhetoric in our Resource Rooms where many of our kids with LD reside. In the end, don’t we all want to take advantage of the ADA and live a life free of discrimination and accommodations? I always say it isn’t the American with Differences Act or the Americans with Strengths and Challenges Act. You have to say the word to be part of the club. Especially when that club has been fighting for your rights for centuries. Wheelchair users want ramps to enter the school and individuals with LD want learning ramps for more accessible teaching and materials.
If we can all get on the same page we will be able to cross-collaborate, learn from one another, take advantage of our large numbers and work toward a more accessible and inclusive community for all of us.