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    What The Man With The Stutter Means To Me

    This article is about the power of representation and what Joe Biden's presidency means to disabled America.

    What the Man with The Stutter Means to Me

    One of the most important reasons I support Joe Biden is his stutter. Let me explain, but before I do, this is not about left or right, Democrat or Republican; this is about representation and about decency. Please, show me the respect by reading more, regardless of how you feel about President Biden.

    In November of 2015, Donald Trump openly mocked a disabled reporter, Serge Kovaleski. Kovaleski suffers from arthrogryposis, which impacts the movement of joints, noticeable in his right hand and arm. For me, this moment made Trump’s election particularly painful.

    In 2007, I was in a car accident, and I suffered a traumatic brain injury and stroke, and as a result, I walk with a limp, struggle with left side weakness, and unconsciously, I sometimes do a similar arm curl as Mr. Kovaleski. I know I am seen differently, and since my accident, I have struggled to accept my injury and live life confidently as a handicapped person. I work as a professor at Kennesaw State University, and even as an academic, I experience others’ implicit bias against the disabled. It has never been from my bosses or from faculty within my department, but at a new hire luncheon, another professor asked me, gesturing to my cane, “So, is it degenerative?”. From students, from strangers, from people throughout my life, I endure comments like this, “So you’re like brain damaged?”, “What happened to you?”, “Will you ever get better?”

    Now, statements like these rarely have intended malice behind them, but they sting and stab just the same, and they remind me I am separate; they remind me that no amount of accolades will take away the limitations my disability gives me in other’s eyes.

    Yes, it happens to all disabled persons. Difference makes others uncomfortable, and we all put space in between us and the thing we do not understand, whether it is gender identity, race, or any number of a variety of aspects of identity. However, disability is something that creates an exceptional amount of space because people do not understand fully how different a disabled person truly is. They do not know if a physical disability presents mental and emotional consequences, so the able protect themselves by assuming the worst. They throw their voices into upward lilts, issuing “Hey, buddy”’s at the start of all interactions; they are slow and deliberate in speech and, sometimes, even check for understanding as if talking to a child. All of this serves to other and isolate.

    So, when Donald Trump mocked this reporter, it did not feel like a solitary incident, a slip of the tongue, or any such mistake that could be swept under the rug. Mr. Trump embodied the negative societal perception of the disabled. Essentially, it felt as if the reporter was disabled, so it was okay to mock him. And when I saw friends and relatives excuse Trump’s actions, it showed even more this societal prejudice. It was not that the voters cheered his act of mocking a disabled man, but it felt like this bullying didn’t matter, as if they were saying, “I’m not disabled. He wasn’t mocking me.”

    Trump’s election isolated me from friends and family because they sided with the bully. People who I love, and I believed loved me were fine with someone belittling someone like me, and the gap between us grew. Would they be okay if Donald Trump mocked me? Would they be fine if he made his left leg stiff and offered an exaggerated limp? Would they be undisturbed if he curled his left arm up as I sometimes do? Would they be unmoved if he affected a less intelligent sounding voice for me? It sure felt like they would. To excuse one crime is to excuse all crime.

    Then, there came the man with the stutter. Now, I will confess that I have always had a sincere fondness for President Biden ever since his 2015 interview with Stephen Colbert (If you have not seen it, please watch it), but I grew to love him for his stutter. I loved the fact that he has an impediment to speech, the same way I have an impediment to walking. I loved that he had this part of him that was separate from the normal mold, apart from the way people are (heavy quotes here) “supposed to be,” and I loved how he embraced it. He didn’t run from his impediment. He would openly speak about it as a positive aspect of who he is, how it enabled him to grow, how it helped him become the man with the confidence to run for president. Joe Biden noted how his mother did not allow him to view his impediment as a roadblock to success. She told him, “Joey, don’t let this define you. Joey, remember who you are. Joey, you can do it.” He then went on to say, “So every time I would walk out, she would reinforce me. I know that sounds silly, but it really matters” (Shabaz, 2020).

    Hearing this, disabled Americans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. Even if they did not agree with politics, they could see that this man knew what is was to experience others boxing you in for the thing that makes you different. This man understands the distancing; he has felt the isolation, and he pushed on.

    Not only that, but he also uses his stutter to help others. At this very same event, a thirteen-year-old with a stutter who met Biden at an event in 2015 noted, “Joe Biden made me more confident about something that’s bothered me my whole life.”

    Joe Biden wants others to know they are not broken; they are not a bug in the system. They are powerful and capable, and this is the power of the man with the stutter, or, in fact, this is the power of representation. Disabled Americans might disagree, like all Americans, on who should be in the White House, but as a handicapped man, it is one of the most powerful, biggest boosts to my disabled confidence to see that a man with a stutter holds the presidency. He has an impediment, but he doesn’t run from it. He claims it as part of him, and his stutter helps to give all of us who have impediments and disabilities the courage to claim our identities with confidence.

    No matter what happens with the next three and a half years of his presidency. No matter what he does or does not do, I will always be thankful to him for that.