“Can You Say That Again?”

Over the last year of performing Backstage In Biscuit Land I’ve met loads of great people. One of them is Josh, and he’s written a guest blog on a very important issue – five words that we can use to make the world a more inclusive place.

I’m Josh and I’m 24. Unlike Touretteshero I don’t have Tourettes, but I do have a significant speech impairment. I have cerebral palsy, which affects my muscles and means I make involuntary movements and occasionally noises.

While I realise that I’m significantly impaired, I am a believer in the social model of disability which, as many of you will know, says that people with impairments are only disabled because of society’s inability to react to our needs.

A very simple example is replacing a flight of stairs with a lift or ramp for wheelchair users, to enable them to access more than one level.

However, I find social attitudes towards my impairment to be the most disabling factor of all. It can be difficult to understand me, which I fully acknowledge. I’m in no state of denial that I have a speech impairment. This does not get me down in any way as I have lots of fantastic friends who I interact with perfectly on a daily basis.

The problem seems to come with people whom I don’t know. People seem scared or embarrassed to ask me to repeat myself and therefore do what they can to avoid interacting with me. This never gets easier.

The problem seems to revolve around the issue of confidence. Whenever I’m dealing with people who seem confident in themselves, it’s fascinating and very enjoyable for me to see how open they are at interacting with me. I find it very liberating. However, whenever I find myself trying to interact with people who are less overtly self-confident, it is not so easy.

It is shame that most people seem to find it too difficult to say something like, “Sorry mate, can you say that again?”

I’ve never had a problem and never will feel frustrated about the percentage of actual words that people understand. This varies enormously but after 5 to 10 minutes of talking, people seem to understand the majority of what I say, though I have absolutely no problem repeating myself.

While I accept it’s partly due to a lack of confidence, this should never be an excuse for bad manners. Friends tell me that other people feel embarrassed about asking me to repeat myself and therefore find it easier to walk away.

I’d love to find a way to change this.

Thank you Josh for an important and moving post.

While feeling embarrassed or worrying about being rude is understandable, we must all act to prevent this from creating disabling barriers. In addition to excluding someone, fear of asking, “Can You Say That Again?” might mean you miss out on making a friend, learning a mind-blowing fact, or meeting the love of your life.

We all have the power to change this, so let’s scrap the polite nodding and use these five simple words whenever necessary.

One response to “Can You Say That Again?”

  1. Tiny says:

    Hi Josh. I empathise with the frustration you must face when people see and talk to you for the first time. I sometimes get it myself. Looks are so deceiving. When they talk to your non wheelchair friend as your interpreter. No. I don’t get that, I don’t have a disability. I work to support those that do. But had you ever thought of empowering those that want to walk away? In my job, we talk about empowering people. Sounds like you are empowered enough. Confident in talking to others. But they are not confident, lack knowledge and understanding. They will however stay that way. If everyone does not empower everyone else. Why don’t you state the obvious when that person looks confused, struggles out of fear of offending you and feeling embarrassed. HEY YOU MAY NOT UNDERSTAND ME OR I YOU AS OUR "ACCENTS" ARE DIFFERENT. But stick with it, I don’t mind if you don’t. Problem solved, and a nice little icebreaker to boot. Now your both more approachable. As the song goes, "It takes two baby!"

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