Opinion: Yes, making fun of Joe Biden’s stutter is ableism

After the presidential debate Tuesday night, many viewers mocked Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s multiple mid-debate stutters.

The former vice president faltered in his speech various times throughout the debate, either stumbling over his words or taking a few extra seconds to gather his thoughts.

It didn’t take long for debate viewers at home to notice his stutter and openly mock it on social media. Some made a game of it, saying they’d take a shot every time Biden stuttered, and others said it was the funniest thing ever to watch.

Regardless of your political affiliation or whether you endorse Biden, mocking his speech impediment is ableist and unacceptable.

Unfortunately, stuttering is one of the few disabilities that society still deems acceptable to laugh at or make fun of. Some people go so far as to question the mental capacity of people who stutter.

However, stuttering is not a sign of low intelligence — it’s simply a communication disorder that causes disruptions in a person’s speech, according to the National Stuttering Association. Basically, when people stutter, they feel like they have lost control of their speech mechanisms. This can lead them to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, anxious or fearful of stuttering again.

Making fun of it can only make them feel worse.

About 1% of the world’s population speaks with a stutter, and about 5% of children go through some period of stuttering. However, 80% of those children stop stuttering at a young age.

Those who continue to stutter into school years often continue stuttering in varying degrees of seriousness for the rest of their lives.

Biden is part of the latter group. The obvious stress and anxiety of speaking at the presidential debate likely triggered his stutter. It should have come as no surprise to anyone, as he’s publicly spoken about his speech impediment in the past.

In a 2011 personal essay for People Magazine, he wrote that a couple of nuns at his boys prep school taught him to speak to a cadence, which helped him slow his speech pattern.

He mostly overcame his stutter, despite never receiving professional therapy. It never seemed to hinder his professional career though, as his 47 years in politics show.

In February, he addressed the topic again at a CNN town hall.

“You know, stuttering, when you think about it, is the only handicap that people still laugh about, that still humiliate people about. And they don’t even mean to,” Biden said. “It has nothing to do with your intelligence quotient. It has nothing to do with your intellectual makeup.”

He’s absolutely right.

If you don’t like Biden, that’s fine. If you don’t support his policies or viewpoints, disagree with them. This isn’t a political endorsement.

However, his stutter is not a valid argument to prove that he’s unfit for office. His stutter is not a reason to laugh, poke fun or down another shot.

As a society, America must continue learning to embrace people with all levels and variants of disability. Including people who stutter, and including our politicians.

@CecilLenzen

opinion-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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