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60% of stutterers in Japan have suffered discrimination or harassment: survey

  • August 17, 2016
  • , The Mainichi
  • Translation

Over 60 percent of people who stammer have suffered harassment or discrimination at school or in the workplace, according to a survey conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun in collaboration with groups supporting those with a stutter.


Nearly 70 percent of respondents in the nationwide survey furthermore answered that “social understanding and support with respect to stammering are insufficient,” highlighting a lack of measures in society to help people with the condition.


Roughly one in 100 people are said to stammer, but according to organizations supporting stutterers, there have been no surveys in the past on the harassment and discrimination they face.


The Mainichi Shimbun survey was carried out between February and June with support from nonprofit groups including the Japan Stuttering Genyukai Association in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward and Domo Work in Nagoya, which helps stutterers find work. A total of 80 people aged between their 20s and 80s responded.


When asked, “Have you been subjected to unfavorable treatment such as harassment or discrimination at the workplace or school due to stammering?” a total of 50 respondents answered in the affirmative. Fifty-five respondents additionally responded that social understanding and support for people who stammer was “insufficient.”


When asked why understanding of their condition was insufficient, the respondents’ answers included, “There are few people around with correct knowledge. People just have the idea that we’ve got stage fright or that we’re people who stumble in our words a lot. Another respondent said, “We should be able to receive legal support, but on the medical and welfare scene, there’s hardly any knowledge (about stammering).”


Other respondents made such comments as, “There’s inequality toward stuttering in work today. Consideration is needed (during interviews etc.),” “I want special classes like language lessons in junior high and high schools,” and, “Stammering should be introduced in health and physical education textbooks.”


As a result of discrimination toward stutterers, one respondent said, “I don’t want anyone to know that I have this condition. I want to keep it hidden.”


When faced with the question, “Do you want to improve or overcome your stuttering condition?” 67 people answered affirmatively. Twelve answered in the negative, giving such reasons as that they thought of the condition as part of their nature.


Responding to the results of the survey, Takayuki Minami, president of the Japan Stuttering Genyukai Association, commented, “I feel that there are even more stutterers subjected to unfavorable treatment in society under the surface.” He added, “A law which bans unfair discriminatory treatment of those with disabilities came into effect this year. I want people to learn more about stammering, which is a familiar disability.”


Yoshikazu Kikuchi, a doctor at Kyushu University Hospital, who stutters himself and diagnoses the condition, said it is an established theory that stammering is caused by impairment in a network in the left side of the brain, but a method of treatment has not been established. About 40 to 50 percent of stutterers face anxiety in their social life and it is common for patients to suffer from depression, he says. Some sufferers change their own name because they can’t pronounce it, or are even driven to suicide. If a good environment for stammers is established with understanding at schools and in the workplace, it is not uncommon for the person’s symptoms to lessen, Kikuchi says. He adds that it is important for society to perceive stuttering as a disability.


Stuttering is characterized by the repetition of sounds, as well as by blocks in speech making it difficult for sufferers to get their words out smoothly. There is a tendency for sufferers to hide their condition or avoid communication. The condition is depicted in Japanese author Yukio Mishima’s novel “Kinkaku-ji” (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion), and the 2010 film “The King’s Speech,” based on the story of British King George VI, who stammered.

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