‘I struggle to get my point across’: What it’s like to wear a face mask while having a stammer

A Manchester teenager who has a stammer has spoken about the struggles he’s encountered since face masks were made compulsory.

Faizan Sheikh, 17, from Didsbury, has had a stammer since an early age and, at one point, wasn’t able to say his own name.

Over the years, he’s been able to control his stammer with breathing techniques – but the lockdown has led to a unique set of hurdles for him.

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Face masks have been compulsory on public transport in England since June and the law was extended on July 24 to also be compulsory in shops, banks, post offices, and supermarkets.

From August 8, the rule will also apply to indoor settings such as museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship, Boris Johnson announced on Friday.

But Faizan says wearing a face mask and having a stammer has resulted in it being hard for people to hear or understand him.

“I feel like I struggle to get my point across when I talk with a face mask on because my voice sounds muffled,” Faizan tells the M.E.N.

“When I talk, I need to put the face mask down so I can be heard clearer.”

Faizan has had a stammer since he was three.
(Image: ABNM Photography)

He says that the breathing techniques he uses to help him be able to control his stammer and say words more clearly are also affected when wearing a face mask.

“I think people who have a stammer find it difficult with a mask because they can’t do their breathing technique as well,” he says.

“The mask limits the breathing and that’s what we’ve been taught to help us with our words.”

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Faizan says he has tried to use a visor instead but, while he found it easier to talk, he said it was ‘quite irritating’ on his forehead.

He said he only learnt this week that there were exceptions to the face coverings rule for people with certain conditions, but said the guidance needed to more clearly state who is exempt.

Currently, the government says there is an exception if you have a ‘reasonable excuse’, however this isn’t explained further and speech conditions are not directly mentioned in the guidance.

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“I think there should have been more consideration for people with stammers and those who can’t hear,” Faizan explains.

“I don’t think the guidance was clear enough – not enough people are wearing masks.

“I was on the bus the other day and I was the only person wearing a mask.”

Apart from face masks, Faizan says the lockdown has taken a big knock on his confidence and people have been less patient with his stammer.

“Lockdown has affected me really badly,” he adds. “As I was stuck in the house, I couldn’t meet up with people and talk to them.

“I had to use the phone to speak to people and there are some people who have been really rude and impatient to me.

Faizan said lockdown had affected him quite badly
(Image: ABNM Photography)

“I was trying to explain to someone about a punctured tyre and as I was struggling with the first ‘P’ bit, they got fed up and hung up.

“I want people to understand how difficult it can be. People need to have more patience.”

The British Stammering Association said they had been informed of a large number of people with stammers who have faced similar issues as Faizan.

“Since the requirement to wear face coverings in shops and on public transport was introduced, lots of people who stammer have told us it can make talking more difficult,” a spokesperson for Stamma told the M.E.N.

“Some complain of being interrupted more, with listeners not being able to see their mouths when they’re struggling to get any sound out. Sometimes listeners walk away thinking the conversation has finished, which can be humiliating.

“When speech is muffled you’re more likely to be asked to repeat yourself – if you stammer and you’ve struggled to say something the first time, it can be really exhausting and frustrating to have to say it again.”

“We’d advise people to wear a face covering if at all possible but if you are struggling and want to claim exemption you can download an exemption card.

“If you’re struggling at work, stammering is often a disability under the Equality Act 2010, so you can ask your employer to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make your job easier, for instance by asking them to let you wear a face shield instead.”

Anyone who is exempt from wearing a face mask can download and print out an exception badge that they can carry around with them or display on their phone. Card and lanyard options are also available to purchase.

There are also clear, transparent face masks available for anyone who feels they are being visibly blocked.

Anyone seeking advice from the British Stammering Association can contact them via their helpline on 0808 802 0002 or webchat service. Both are open weekdays 10am-12pm or 6pm-8pm.

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