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Disability: Stammering starting in adulthood

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Last updated 16th November 2011.


In some cases stammering may start in adulthood, for example

  • due to a stroke or other brain trauma (neurogenic stammering), or
  • due to stress (psychogenic stammering), or
  • as a result of certain drugs.

See ‘Developmental & acquired’ on Variations & complications (stamma.org).

As with developmental stammering which starts in childhood, there will be the question of whether the stammer has a substantial (ie more than minor or trivial) effect on ability to carry out normal activities (see ‘Disability’ main page). However where the stammering starts in adulthood, the further question will arise of whether it is ‘long-term’:


To be a ‘disability’ within the Equality Act, the impairment’s substantial adverse effects on normal day-to-day activities need to be ‘long-term’. Basically long-term just means lasting at least 12 months (or the rest of the person’s life if shorter): see EqA Sch 1 para 2. So it will qualify if the effects have already lasted 12 months. It will also qualify if from first onset the effects are likely to last at least 12 months. ‘Likely’ does not mean more probable than not, it just means that the effects could well last 12 months (SCA Packaging v Boyle).

So the ‘long-term’ requirement will not be a problem if the effects have already lasted 12 months. If they have not yet lasted that long, medical evidence is likely to be important – probably from a speech and language therapist – as to whether they ‘could well’ last that long. Since prognosis will often be uncertain, it seems likely that the test will frequently be met.

Whether the definition of disability is met is judged as at the time of the alleged discrimination (McDougall v Richmond Adult Community College (link to bailii.org), Court of Appeal, [2008]). So subsequent events are not taken into account. By the time of a tribunal hearing it may well be known whether substantial effects lasted longer than a year. Even so the test is whether, considered at the time of the discrimination, the effects “could well” do so.

For more on the ‘long-term’ test, see Part C of the 2011 Guidance (linked above).

Note that as with developmental stammering (ie stammering from childhood), one does not need to stammer all the time for it to be a disability. See Substantial effect>Variability, and – on likelihood of reoccurence as mentioned below – Longer-term variations.

Liklihood of reoccurence

If “substantial” effects of an impairment have ceased, say within less than 12 months, it is relevant whether substantial effects are likely to reoccur in future, meaning again whether they “could well” reoccur. Substantial effects are treated as ongoing if they are likely to reoccur: see Longer-term variations.

Drug-related stammering

Drug-related stammering is different in the sense that doctors may be able to switch the person onto another drug so that the stammering stops and is not long-term. However the condition for which the drug is being given may itself be a disability, with its effects being judged as they ‘could well’ be if the drug were not being taken (see Therapy).


It will hopefully not be disputed that the stammer is an ‘impairment‘. If someone raises the issue of whether eg stress-related stammering (known medically as ‘psychogenic stammering’) is a medical condition, one might point them to the BSA website heading ‘Developmental & acquired’ on Variations & complications (stamma.org), and/or a speech and language therapist might write a letter confirming this.

In any event, the Equality Act test in this regard is just whether it is an ‘impairment‘, rather necessarily than a ‘medical condition’. A helpful case on depression is discussed in Workers may find discrimination claims for depression easier after EAT ruling ( pinsentmasons.com). The issues discussed in that case should not really be relevant even to stress-related stammering though, because with depression there is the issue of distinguishing it from ‘normal’ anxiety which anyone might have – whereas with psychogenic stammering the stress has produced a stammer which is an impairment.

Employer making symptoms worse

On stress-related stammering (though this is also relevant to stammering more generally) it’s worth mentioning that tribunals seem that much more likely to find in favour of claimants whose symptoms have been made worse by their employer’s actions or failure to make adjustments (eg Aylott and Meikle cases).

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