As part of our series sharing the voices of people who stammer, Richard Roaf from the Home Office talks about how he started stammering late in life.
My names Richard Roaf, and I’ve just turned 49. My journey (don’t you hate that word, lol) is probably different to a lot of peoples, as I got my stammer quite late in life.
Up until I was 30-31, I never had a stammer. I then suffered two epileptic seizures at work in a very short space of time, and I believe the epilepsy affected the part of my brain that deals with speech, and so my new life living with a stammer began. You’ll be surprised about the number of old school friends on Facebook who all said “but you didn’t have a stammer at school”.
Simple things like answering the telephone (not my favourite thing to do at the best of times) became unbearable. I was happy for everybody else to answer the office phones, as it meant I didn’t have to and I only spoke to people on the phone when a caller asked for me by name. Any numbers on my mobile that I didn’t recognise, I just took the attitude of “If it’s that important, they’ll call back”. One of my work colleagues was even told “Don’t put me through to the guy that stammers – me – as he can’t speak properly”.
Staff/Team meetings were a problem. I always used to sit in the corner and not say a word. Not that I didn’t want to join in you understand, but because everyone would just talk over me, and it was just easier to sit in the corner rather than struggle to join in and say my piece.
Asking people for directions was also a problem. I always just used to follow my nose to get from A to B. Looking back, I now realise that I was just doing this to avoid talking to people and letting them know I had a stammer.
The turning point for me was in August 2010 when I was on holiday. I had to call my parents and, however hard I tried, I just couldn’t make myself understood. It was at this point that I decided I had to do something about my speech. Not knowing what speech therapy courses were out there, I was lucky to see Gareth Gates talking about The McGuire Programme around the same time that The Kings Speech came out, so decided that this 4 day intensive course would be more beneficial to me than a once a week course somewhere else.
Having made a speech at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, came my biggest challenge, making a short speech using my new techniques in front of my parents.
I now enjoy – if that’s the right word – making speeches on diversity at work, and I have just started making disclosures to new members of my team so they know how to react when I block.