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.
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!
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.
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