Captain Jimmy Lang MBE is co-founder of the award-winning Defence Stammering Network
What made you want to join the Army?
I originally wanted to join the Marines – but my medical examination showed that I was colour blind, which meant they couldn’t accept me. They had no problem with my stammer. In the Defence Stammering Network, we always emphasise the fact that it’s not always a disability that means you can’t do a job; people who are fit and healthy can still be rejected.
What was the recruitment process like?
I remember the recruiting sergeant telling me I might never get promoted. He explained the reasons and I agreed because, at the time, it wasn’t so well understood what people with a stammer could achieve. But my attitude was very much, “Yeah, you just watch me”. I went on to be chosen as best recruit and became the youngest junior corporal in the Army. It normally takes six years to become a corporal; it took me two-and-a-half.
Did your stammer create any problems for you in the early days?
The first couple of years were hard. The people around me didn’t know a lot about stammering. But the better we got to know each other, the more I was able to show what I could do and achieve. Yes, I stammer – and that means some things may take me a little longer. But it doesn’t mean I can’t do those things just as well as everyone else. Of course there was a bit of mickey-taking, but there was never any harm meant.
Why did you start the Defence Stammering Network?
I realised I couldn’t be the only person in the Army that had a stammer, and that other people might not be getting the support they needed. I was put in touch with a couple of other people who stammer and it went from there. The Network was launched in July 2015.
What support does the Network offer?
We offer advice on therapies for stammering, and on employment opportunities. We run a forum, and we go out and talk to the chain of command about how they can best manage people who stammer. It’s really about raising awareness. There are people out there who are scared to come forward as stammerers because of the stigma. We made a documentary called My War with Words, which aimed to challenge perceptions about stammering. It’s been really well received, and shared much more widely than we expected.
Do you think attitudes to stammering within the Army are changing?
People are definitely becoming better informed. To maintain that we need to improve communication even more, and we’ve put together formal policy recommendations to make sure that happens.
I also think the Army is starting to see that the key to achieving its goals is to focus on people’s skills and strengths, and work with them to maximise their potential. It’s really important that people who stammer are open about it, so they can get the additional support they need. I’d like to think that within the next five or 10 years we’ll reach the point where no one will bat an eyelid if someone has a stammer.
Are there any roles in the army that someone with a stammer can’t do?
Sometimes people question whether it might be a problem in a combat situation. But a couple of years ago in Afghanistan, a unit was attacked and six people were seriously injured. The sergeant, who has a stammer, gave them medical assistance and got them evacuated. His stammer didn’t matter. Those people are alive because of him.
Finally, what would be your advice to somebody with a stammer starting a new job?
- Be open and honest about it. Have a chat to your manager and people you work with and let them know how your stammer affects you.
- Know your limitations. If you think the stammer might affect your ability to do a particular job, find something else that better suits your abilities.
- Be yourself. If an employer doesn’t want you because you stammer, then maybe they’re not worth working for.