The Oscars success of the British film The King’s Speech is already helping to fight ignorance and dispel urban myths about stammering, say campaigners.
The user-led British Stammering Association (BSA) said calls to its helpline have risen by half as a result of the film’s popularity, with visits to its website increasing even more sharply.
The King’s Speech has won wide praise for its depiction of how King George VI, who had a stammer, coped with his fear of public speaking with the help of an Australian speech therapist.
The film won four Oscars at this week’s Academy Awards, with awards for best picture, best director, best actor (for the British actor Colin Firth) and best original screenplay for David Seidler, who himself had a stammer as a child.
Norbert Lieckfeldt, BSA’s chief executive, said the charity had received calls from members who said people were asking them about their stammer for the first time, because of the film.
He said: “Suddenly it has become a thing that can be talked about, which is very important for us. There is a lot of ignorance and urban myths about stammering.
“For those people who are engaged in conversations about it, their situation will have changed for the better.”
He said there had also been a hugely positive reaction to Seidler’s acceptance speech, in which he said that people with stammers now “have a voice, we have been heard”.
But despite the huge rise in interest in BSA in the wake of the film’s release, the charity is still facing a similar funding struggle to many other user-led disability organisations, with its Department for Education funding running out at the end of this month.
Lieckfeldt said: “It’s going to be very difficult for us, I think. There has been a lot more demand for our services, but it hasn’t so far worked its way through into funding.”
Ed Balls MP, the shadow chancellor, who has a stammer himself, has written of how the film and Firth’s “brilliant performance” have “done more to advance the understanding of stammering than anything in my lifetime”.
Balls said: “Today’s open discussion of stammering is profoundly liberating for the thousands of children and adults, like myself, across Britain who have to deal with it every day.
“And the fact that the condition is portrayed so accurately and sensitively is a relief to everyone with a stammer who has seen it mocked on screen for laughs or used as a scriptwriter’s cipher for weakness.”
2 March 2011