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HSE worker with lifelong stammer says dating with disability is 'absolutely horrific'

'Because of my stammer I used to get egged and other students constantly mocked how I spoke...'

Sandra Kelly has been treated badly because of her stutter

Clodagh Meaney

A woman with a lifelong stammer has said that dating with a disability is "absolutely horrific".

Sandra Kelly (38), from Co Kildare, said men have walked out on dates with her in the past and intimidation from others has often led her to leave them too.

"I've had an incident where I was texting a guy off Tinder and after about three weeks we went on a date," she told the Sunday World.

"When he asked me what drink I'd like, I started stuttering on the word 'Coke', and he laughed, asking was I OK. He said I should have told him I stuttered when I was texting him. I just walked out, I didn't even answer him."

Sandra says her schooldays were miserable because she was picked on

The HSE worker said she is often treated very poorly by men because of her speech impediment. "On nights out, I'd be trying to chat to guys, I would often get asked if I'm on something," she explained.

"It knocked my confidence for a long time but recently I've been trying to just not let it bother me - but guys are really awful towards you if you're any way different."

On another occasion, Sandra was hurtfully mocked by a security guard at a music festival when she asked for assistance locating the showers. "He asked me 'Are you looking for the s-s-s-s-showers?' His colleagues just burst out laughing in our faces and we just walked off and my sister was crying, but I said to her 'look, this is always happening'."

"They wouldn't have said that to a person in a wheelchair or a deaf person or a blind person and it's really hurtful."

Sandra, who began stuttering aged three, began to notice the cruelty of others when she started secondary school aged 12.

"Teachers didn't really realise [the effect] that asking me to read aloud in class would have on me," she explained. "I used to get jeered at in the corridors, I used to get pushed, they used to say stuff to me like 'S-s-s-s-sandra, I used to get egged, other students constantly mocked how I spoke. It was constant bullying."

"In about third year I started to skip the classes that I knew I'd have to speak in, so that used to get me into a lot of trouble."

Sandra said her education was affected by the bullying as she didn't feel confident enough to go to college and continue her studies because of how badly she was treated by other people.

The fear of being treated poorly by others led her to adopt a habit of walking around with her head facing the ground.

"I used to carry a pen and a notebook in my school bag to say if I had to ask for something in a shop or anything. I'd just write it down and hand it in. It was just the fear of how I'd be treated if I spoke," she explained.

A stammer is a speech disorder that makes it physically hard to speak. A person with a stammer will often repeat, prolong or get stuck on sounds or words.

Sandra is just one of 50,000 people in Ireland with a stutter, and despite her heartbreaking past, she has bravely defied the cruel words of others to raise awareness about stammering and help her community. "I'm just trying to raise awareness [about] how hurtful it is for a person that stammers to be made a joke out of," she says.

The young woman said while she used to get very upset by public incidents of people teasing her stammer she now confronts people for their behaviour. "If it happens in like a shop or anything I say politely 'look I have a stammer so can you not be so rude to me and allow me finish my sentences please?'"

"I just think what if it happened to a teenager? It could have a huge effect on them, people just think it's a joke. It's all from grown adults," she continued.

Recalling a recent encounter, Sandra said: "A few weeks ago I was out in a pub and I was asking for a drink and the barman actually said to me, kind of joking, 'oh now I think you've had enough to drink' and I had to explain I have a stammer."

When it comes to being more accommodating to people with stammers Sandra said that it's best to be kind.

"Just give a person with a stammer time to speak, don't finish their sentences," she says.

For more information about the stammering community in Ireland, visit

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