Summary: A national poll by ASHA reveals that a majority of adults with hearing, speech, or language disorders experience significant stigmas, including feelings of being outcast or judged as less intelligent.


  1. A significant proportion of adults with communication disorders feel stigmatized in various ways, impacting their social inclusion and self-esteem.
  2. These stigmas affect not only personal relationships but also everyday interactions and social participation, highlighting the need for greater societal accommodation and understanding.
  3. There is a strong need for better public education on communication disorders and more comprehensive information about treatment options to help alleviate these challenges.

Approximately 65 percent of adults with hearing, speech, and/or language disorders say that they encounter stigmas, according to a new national poll commissioned by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and conducted by YouGov

The results are being released in tandem with National Speech-Language-Hearing Month in May, ASHA says.

Communication Disorder Stigma

The following experiences were among those reported by 65% of poll respondents:

  • feeling like an outcast and feeling judged
  • being viewed as less intelligent
  • left unrecognized for their achievements
  • being labeled, bullied, or treated with condescension

Conducted in late February, the poll had a sample size of 1,004 adults with hearing, speech, or language difficulties.

Scope of Communication Disorders

Millions of Americans have communication disorders. They include approximately 2 million who have aphasia, more than 3 million who stutter, and approximately 38 million who have some trouble hearing, according to ASHA. Although these disorders can make communication more challenging, they do not reflect a person’s intelligence. Many people develop or acquire problems in adulthood for a variety of reasons—including stroke, brain injuries, neurodegenerative diseases, and/or as part of aging. ASHA chose to poll adults because information about the stigmatization that they experience is not as available as it is for children.

“It is most fitting that we spotlight stigmas associated with communication disorders for National Speech-Language-Hearing Month,” says ASHA President Tena L. McNamara, AuD, CCC-A/SLP. “Stigmas are completely unacceptable and generally the result of misinformation and misunderstanding. By listening and learning more, and challenging stereotypes, all of us can help create a more inclusive environment that elevates the quality of life for people with communication difficulties. According to the people we polled, giving them adequate time to communicate and not making assumptions about them—small but effective steps—would stand to improve their lives significantly.”

Further reading: Hearing Aid Innovations Help Silence Stigma of Hearing Loss and Treatment

Feedback from the Poll

A 21-year-old poll respondent wrote, “I wish people knew that, in moments when my speech or language difficulties become apparent, understanding and patience mean a lot.” A 53-year-old person wanted people to understand “that I’m not stupid. I just have trouble hearing if more than one person is talking at the same time.” For another respondent, age 61, “every little bit of acknowledgment goes a long way.”

And the public can provide such help, the polling suggests—in numerous settings. More than 80% of the people polled said that their communication difficulties impact their lives; almost half reported that important relationships are being affected; and 67% reported the same for their daily interactions with people outside of immediate loved ones. Nearly 60% said that social gatherings and events can be stressful, and an equivalent number wished that other people were more willing to accommodate individuals with communication difficulties.

Improving Public Education

The poll results also indicate that more public education is needed about treatment options. More than half of those with hearing, speech, and/or language difficulties reported that they did not have enough information about treatment options.“Educating the public is much needed,” ASHA President McNamara says, and cited ASHA’s Myths About Stuttering toolkit as one example of an educational tool to use—as well as the efforts of a new coalition of organizations, including ASHA, that are working together to raise awareness about stuttering.