‘Stuttering ID card’ follows detainment of college student in Atlanta

Struggles with speech impediments are set to become clearer.

Struggles with speech impediments are set to become clearer.

The Stuttering Foundation recently created a “stuttering ID card” for folks who may have trouble speaking in stressful situations, such as while dealing with law enforcement.

It can be printed from the website Stutteringhelp.org.

The card idea came after Kylah Simmons, a Kalamazoo, Michigan college student was detained Jan. 21 at the Atlanta airport after returning from a study abroad trip in Costa Rica. Simmons was held up because she couldn’t quickly answer questions from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer.

Simmons said she was questioned repeatedly about her speech impediment and was accused of lying when she tried to explain her difficulty in answering his questions.

“Stress doesn’t cause stuttering, but it can certainly aggravate it,” said Jane Fraser, president of The Stuttering Foundation. While 5% of all kids stutter, most outgrow doing so. About 1% of U.S. adults still experience the impediment, Fraser said.

The card “is a wonderful idea!” said Taro Alexander, founder and president of The Stuttering Association for the Young in midtown, and a stutterer himself. “If you are stopped by law enforcement, and things get challenging, this is a great educational piece to have right there.”

But while identifying its owner as a stutterer, the card doesn’t instruct non-stutterers what to do when someone starts stammering.

(Hint: Don’t finish someone’s sentence, cut them off, tell them to calm down or offer other advice, according to the Stuttering Foundation. Instead, listen patiently and let the person work through it.)

Lori Melnitsky, a speech and language pathologist who also stutters, said the card will prove helpful for people who fear they can’t communicate well or be understood.

But Melnitsky cautioned a stutterer not to put “your hands in your pockets” suddenly to retrieve the card, as doing so could prompt a law enforcement officer to think you’re reaching for a weapon. If stuttering is so severe as to require such a card, it’s a good idea to seek out speech therapy, she said.

“There is no stuttering policy or procedure,” said a spokeswoman for the NYPD. While every situation is unique, in general, instructions issued by a police officer should be followed: “If they say don’t move, don’t move,” she said.

People who have struggled to tame their stutters include Wayne Brady, Jorge Luis Borges, Marc Anthony, Emily Blunt, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Nicole Kidman, Elvis Presley and, of course, King George VI, whose speech impediment anchored the plot of the 2010 movie, “The King’s Speech.”

Sheila Anne Feeney