Know what the law says about stammering with regards to the Equality Act, and what your rights are

Stammering will very often be a disability within the Equality Act. Allan Tyrer, webmaster of, outlines some of the rules.

The Equality Act 2010 (EqA) applies in Scotland like the rest of Great Britain. It replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, except in Northern Ireland where equality legislation is devolved. There are just a few differences in Scotland, for example Scottish claims against service providers go to the sheriff court.

Is it a disability?

The legal definition of disability in the EqA is different from welfare benefits etc. Broadly, a stammer is a disability under the EqA if it has a substantial adverse effect on one’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, such as having a conversation or using the telephone This test is not difficult to meet. “Substantial” means only “more than minor or trivial”. Stammering has a good record of being found to be a disability, though if disputed it will always depend on the facts and evidence.

Hidden effects such as avoidance strategies should count towards it being a disability. However an employer normally has a defence if it did not know and could not reasonably be expected to know of the disability, so telling them can help.

There is a further test if the substantial effect began less than 12 months ago, eg. if the stammer started in adulthood.

Types of discrimination

Employers etc should make reasonable adjustments. An obvious possibility in recruitment is a longer time for the interview, but more adjustments may be required to create a level playing field. It is sensible to arrange any adjustments to the recruitment process in advance. Reasonable adjustments in the job itself can help with phone calls, meetings (nowadays often remote) and presentations, for example.

Also important is “discrimination arising from disability”, for example if someone is turned down for a customer service role because they will sometimes take longer to explain things to customers. This type of claim is wide, but the employer has a defence if it shows “justification”. The employment tribunal conducts a balancing exercise, eg does the employer’s aim outweigh the discriminatory effect, could the aim have been achieved by alternative less discriminatory means, including reasonable adjustments?

Stereotyping may be “direct discrimination” – say if an employer assumes that because someone stammers they could not do a sales role, so does not invite them for interview.

Other types of claim include “harassment” (eg bullying, but it goes wider), and “victimisation” if for example a person is penalised for requesting reasonable adjustments.


The EqA also covers service providers, such as shops and helplines. Examples include being laughed at or mocked for a stammer. Service providers should also make reasonable adjustments, eg if you cannot use their telephone voice recognition system. Making a complaint can help raise awareness of stammering issues.

Universities, colleges and schools are also covered by the EqA. So are most public authorities.

If dealing with a police officer, telling them you stammer can help avoid them seeing your speech as due to dishonesty, alcohol or drugs. Making sure they know can also increase your EqA rights.

September 2020.
Disclaimer: The above is a broad summary and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice.