Speaking with spastic cerebral palsy

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Speaking with spastic cerebral palsy

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Speaking with spastic cerebral palsy

A Black woman with spastic cerebral palsy shares their frustrations about speaking with a speech impediment.

We never talk about disabled languages. I’m not talking about American Sign Language or Augmentative and Alternative Communication. When I listen to myself, I sound normal in my own voice. But as a Black woman with spastic Cerebral Palsy, I have a speech impediment.

If I’m comfortable, my speech flows like water. If I’m nervous, my speech slows like peanut butter. I can’t get my words out, and I want to scream.

When I look into people’s faces, their eyes say, “What is she talking about?” or, “Why don’t you talk normally?” Sometimes, it’s easier for people to understand me in person than by phone. They could see my facial cues and gestures. Other times, after listening to me for long, you could hear me crystal clear. You grasp the intonations of my voice.

I have a friend who uses a speech device. He has a good ear and understands every word I say. When I speak with other disabled people, I use him as my interpreter and ask, “Can you tell them what I said?” He types it out.

I get upset because these are my own disabled people who can’t understand me.

When I do Zoom meetings, because I am speaking with spastic cerebral palsy people cannot figure out what I’m saying. They ask, “What you say?” I have to repeat myself. But when I cuss, people understand me clearly.

Speaking with spastic cerebral palsy - a Black woman shares their frustrations about speaking with a speech impediment. Click To Tweet

One day, I was out shopping with some of my disabled friends. We saw a group of girls and started talking about their mismatched clothes. We assumed they couldn’t understand our speech impediments. One of the girls approached us and said, “I can understand every word you said. I got a sister who’s disabled, so I’m used to the way she talks.” We felt embarrassed and apologized because they knew what we were talking about.

When talking to my attendant, who knew me for over twenty years, I tell her what I want for dinner. She looks at me like, “What does she want?” I know she understands me. That pisses me off. I tell her, “You can’t understand me, or are you getting too old?”

One way I overcome my speech impediment is by, for example, using shorthand. I may say the word “Cookie” instead of the full sentence, “I want a cookie, please.” This technique works in stores where people would not understand my full sentence.

Another technique to understand me is to ask the subject of my conversation to get the context. I often wonder how non-disabled people understand people with speech impediments. I always wanted to ask them that question, and this frustrates me.

Sometimes when I’m speaking, they don’t even listen to me. They jump ahead to their conclusion of what they think I’m about to say.

When disabled people talk to me, I jump ahead, too, and finish their sentences as if I were a word predictor. I used to be bad at this. I did the same thing people often did to me. Now I’m getting better.

Take your time to understand us. Imagine yourself for one day that you couldn’t talk and you wanted people to understand you. How would you feel?

Article by
Monique Renee Harris

Monique Renee Harris was born an African American woman with Cerebral Palsy (CP). Her poetry, stories, and digital graphic artwork have been published in numerous magazines and journals.


Sometimes when I am speaking with spastic cerebral palsy people don't even listen to me.