James,a young disabled man, crouches by a wall covered with graffiti

“He’s really fit but it’s a shame that he speaks like that” – End the Awkward

James Sutliff is a Personal Trainer. In 2008, he developed a rare neurological disorder known as dystonia. His speech became slurred and the feeling in his hands deteriorated.

As part of End the Awkward, James told us the awkward moments he’s found himself in and how he thinks we can avoid these cringe worthy situations.

Attitudes and awkwardness

It’s hard to comprehend because physically to look at me, my disability is quite silent. I don’t generally ‘look like a disabled person’. I’m not in a wheelchair, I don’t have a missing limb. So people are often shocked. They think I’m taking the p***.

I think a lot of people can be quite nervous, it can be embarrassing on either end, because the person who’s speaking to me wants to understand what I’m saying but can’t and I feel awkward so I don’t want to carry on talking. It happens quite a lot.

I don’t think it’s that people can’t be bothered to listen all the time. It’s just maybe a little bit of embarrassment on their part, feeling nervous around not knowing how to approach it.

Some people are great. I like it if people just say “sorry mate can you say that again?” But being polite, as people generally are, they’ll just nod their head or whatever.

James, a young disabled man, lifts weights in a gym

How people can be less awkward

I do get quite a bit of female attention, probably because I work out and stuff. When they approach me and talk to me, they soon realise that I have dystonia and there have been a few instances where people make comments that are not very nice.

I was in a nightclub with my wife and this woman approached me. She was obviously quite physically attracted to me and then I started talking. She quickly finished her conversation and rejoined her friend. She obviously cottoned on that my wife was with me in the club and said to her “He’s really fit but it’s a shame he speaks like that”. That was it, she was in trouble. My wife gave her a really bad telling off!

James, a young disabled man, lifts weights in a gym

What not to do

You do get people staring. I don’t think they realise that they’re doing it but sometimes when I clock them I feel like saying “Stop it! If you want to know what’s wrong, come and ask!”

Children are great though because they basically have no boundaries. They’ll say “Why do you speak like that?” and I love that because they’re so honest. They’re just curious. And we’ll say, “Well it’s because of this” and they just go “Oh, okay then”.

I think as a nation we’re overly polite. But what people don’t realise is they’re actually being ruder by sitting and staring or nudging and whispering with their friend next to them.

Be open, have a sense of humour and don’t ignore me. Just talk to me and remember, I’m the same person I was before.

For more tips on sex and dating, check out the films and stories on our website.

You can also read the rest of our End the Awkward blogs, or get involved in the campaign by submitting your awkward story.

2 thoughts on ““He’s really fit but it’s a shame that he speaks like that” – End the Awkward”

  1. People’s ignorance can so be hurtful. My son is 16 , has severe learning difficulties and speech and language problems. He is a good looking lad ( every mum thinks that) He has low self-esteem and confidence issues. In the past my son has been bullied and even beaten up due to people not understanding him. He has attention of the ladies, but often it results in being made fun off. He is starting to gain confidence due to putting his efforts into fitness. He has joined the special Olympics local team which has helped him. He really thinks he needs to look and sound a certain way. It so sad x

  2. You can definitely improvenyour speech. You need a dental splint and an ALF.
    I have dystonia and only treat myself with that.
    Beeing a weight lifter, you will be able to undertand the biomechanics easily.

    Start with is blog:

    http://wp.me/P5BXae-4n

    And then join some Facebook group like «Dystonia, TMJ and the connection»

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