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This page does not apply outside Great Britain.
Last updated 18th December 2011.

Phone calls can be a particular problem for people who stammer. This page brings together Equality Act material about the telphone. Remember that your stammer must be a disability within the Equality Act in order to have rights under the the Act.

The BSA website includes tips for using the phone at work. Scroll down to Using the phone on Stammering at work (stamma.org).

Case study
A person who stammers rang a public helpline. The lady at the other end laughed at her as she was trying to speak. When the caller said that wasn’t acceptable the lady said: “You see, you can talk perfectly well when you want to!”

The caller wrote to the helpline who responded excellently. They listened to their tape of the conversation. The lady was taken off the helpline for re-training. The helpline also contacted the BSA for information to help them build stammering into their general training courses for helpline staff.

Treatment on the phone

A person may stammer more severely than usual on the phone, and may be tempted to avoid phone calls because of that. It is worth remembering though that in many cases there is broadly a legal obligation to allow the person who stammers to communicate, and not to treat them worse because of the stammer.

Discrimination on the phone can take various forms, for example

  • putting the phone down on someone because of their stammer; or
  • being rude because of the stammer.

This kind of treatment will often be against the Equality Act where it is by:

  • service providers – broadly anyone providing goods, services or facilities to the public, including free services such as a publicly run helpline. It also covers public authorities excersing other public functions. More on service providers…
  • actual or prospective employers, or even work colleagues (see below). More on employment…
  • education providers. More on education…

Possible remedies include compensation for injury to feelings.

The obligations can extend to a phone call with a work colleague, whether senior or junior to you – for example if the colleague hangs up on you in a work call. Unless the justification defence applies, both the colleague themself and often the employer are likely to be liable. See Who is liable.

Reasonable adjustments by employers

The employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments is one of the most important parts of the Equality Act. My pages of Examples of reasonable adjustments include a section on the telephone.

Reasonable adjustments by service providers

Service providers also have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments. My Making services accessible – on the phone aimed at service providers suggest various possible adjustments relating to the phone, such as:

  • allowing sufficient time, and relaxing any internal targets which get in the way of staff doing that;
  • avoiding telephone answering machines which cut off after perhaps a couple of seconds of pause in speech;
  • providing alternatives to use of the telephone;
  • in the case of a voice-activated phone systems where one’s speech is supposed to be understood by a computer, enabling a person who has difficulty with this due to a stammer to be promptly put through to a real person;
  • insurance companies should be wary of using voice analysis on insurance claims in such a way as to lead to claims by people who stammer being investigated with particular suspicion on the basis that they are likely to be dishonest.

Might phone companies give discounts for people who stammer?
See www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster/phonecompanies.html

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