Germany's Bus Tour

About the presenter: Sara Hoelscher writes, "I am 17 years old. For six years I was going to a school not according to my skills. Teachers had advised my parents to have me attend a special school for verbally handicapped children because of my stuttering, although my marks would have allowed me to go to a regular grammar school. Not following the advice of the teachers my parents preferred sending me to a normal, but secondary school. Since last year I’m attending a grammar school, at last. Now I’m feeling considerably happier, because I’m challenged according to my skills."

Stuttering and School: a bus tour in Germany

by Sara Hoelscher
from Germany

The Federal Association of Stutterers’ Self-Help Organisations arranged a bus tour to several town in Germany from May, 2nd to May, 6th, 2000. During the tour, teachers, pupils, and also the public were informed about stuttering, a problem that exists, not only at schools. At schools, stuttering pupils are often handicapped. They have hardly the opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills. They don’t attend schools according to their talents. Their handicap is disregarded in marking tests. This disadvantaging is primarily based on lack of information for the teachers. I have personally experienced such disadvantaging (see my bio above).

The bus tour was one of the projects of the Federal Association of Stutterers’ Self-Help Organisations ("BV") on the topic "Stuttering and School". During the last years BV organised among other things, poster campaigns and interdisciplinary conferences. A guide for teachers has been edited, too. The campaign took place within the framework of "Aktion Grundgesetz 2000" ("Grundgesetz" is our constitution) and the European Days of Protest for Parity of Handicapped Persons. "Aktion Grundgesetz 2000" is a project of the "Aktion Mensch" (Campaign for the Human Being) organisation. "Aktion Mensch" is the most important German umbrella organization for the disabled in Germany. For the bus tour project a bright red English double decker bus was rented. Green posters with the motto "Stuttering and School" and the BV’s logo were fixed to its sides. An item very important for us, noticability, was crossed off with that. No passer-by, no car driver coming along could ignore our bus. We covered 1300 km all in all, so a lot of people have been confronted with stuttering, at least unconsciously.

The bus tour to Cologne, Muenster, Hamburg, Potsdam, and Berlin was an unique experience for me! I’ll remember the five days for a long time.

May 2nd at noon, the bus was standing in front of the BV office in Cologne, loaded up with informational material, pin boards, posters etc., ready to depart. Seven stutterers made the bus team. They became permanent and close companions. We assembled in the BV office to clarify any last problems and questions. We were all excited, when finally the bus started fighting its way through the narrow streets of Cologne City towards the pedestrian precinct. There our premier was to take place. Having arrived there, we immediately started setting out the information desks, the bottle of gas for the campaign balloons, pin boards, folders, brochures, and posters. Every team member was wearing a green t-shirt, printed with the BV logo on the front and with the strokes of the Aktion Grundgesetz 2000 at the back, in order to attract attention. Any passer-by could hardly avoid to have a look on our campaign. In every town we received and appreciated much support by the local self-help groups. Each helping hand received a green t-shirt as a "thank you".

In Cologne we had three hours for our information task. At first it was not simple to speak to people. The well-known anxiety reappeared silently. But after some time it became almost routine to speak to people. The anxiety vanished and was defeated once more. I myself was not so afraid of speaking to people. It was in fact interesting to watch the many different reactions of people and to try the different kinds of talking to them. Because I was able to speak very fluently during the tour, I stuttered very often intentionally in order to confront people with stuttering. How else would they learn to talk to a stutterer "normally"? The reactions of people to our information mirrored what is typical, ranging from "Stuttering and School, what the hell is this?" to persons affected, who felt being caught, from "I’m not interested" to parents, who stayed for a long discussion. During discussions we made clear that stuttering is a verbal disability and has nothing to do with intelligence.

With prominent stutterers as examples we explained, that also stutterers can be successful in their professional life. It was also important to state, that the sentence "Nobody must be discriminated because of his handicap" is part of our Federal Constitution. The direction of our discussions were determined by whoever we were talking to. We adapted ourselves to their interests.

To attract the press, in every town we invited a stuttering prominent person. In Cologne it was a physics professor. He attracted newspaper reporters, but unfortunately no TV reporters.

The first afternoon ended quickly. We were all surprised, how rapidly time had passed. We took down our information stands, loaded everything onto the bus, and we were off on our journey to Muenster, the next town.

First it was a crazy feeling to sit in an English double decker bus. Upstairs and downstairs there were comfortable seats. But during the journey it revealed that downstairs it was too noisy because of the motor, and upstairs it was too wobby to read anything. But at last you got used to it. We all were happy with the first day. We had managed it to inform many people about stuttering. We were looking forward to the next morning, because then we wanted to visit the first school. All schools we visited knew that we were coming. The BV team had contacted a lot of schools' directors in advance and had asked them whether they were interested in our visit. It was a lengthy task! Only two directors in Potsdam were enthusiastic about our project. The team was glad that several directors were willing to receive us during the breaks.

After an overnight stay in a Hotel in Muenster we arrived at the first school in time. It was a grammar school. But there the first thing went wrong. The bus could not drive to the schoolyard because of a roof. So we carried all the information stands and material to the schoolyard. Our most interesting object, the bus, was left behind at the car park. Two of us immediately went to the director in order to hand over informational material and the teachers´ guide to him. That school is known as an elite gymnasium and that might explain why the director told us that at his school there were no verbally handicapped pupils. During the break we asked about stuttering pupils. It was said that there were some, but they didn´t show up. Young pupils (aged 12, 13) asked many questions about stuttering. We told them our experiences with stuttering at school. Teacher´s were not interested. We got into conversation only with the teacher on duty during the break.

Quickly the break was over and the bus started to the next school, a secondary school. Here everything went off smoothly. We were already expected by teachers. They introduced a pupil to us who talked frankly about his stuttering and teasing by other pupils. Another pupil spoke frankly and without fear about her stuttering. She seemed to be able to treat it very well. The teachers were thankful for the hint that in nearly every Federal Country the exam regulations contain possibilities to compensate for any handicaps. The green balloons and the guessing games, created by a very busy member of the self-help group in Muenster, were well received!

In the afternoon we were standing on at large place in Muenster. There only a few people were interested. The Muenster group had thought up a lot of songs and actions in order to attract attention, but unfortunately without much success. A little bit disappointed about the afternoon we continued our journey to Hamburg.

After traveling half of the way we stayed overnight in a Motel. We started early the next morning to arrived at11 o´ clock at the first school. It was a grammar school. Two of us looked for the director but he was nowhere to be found. He had forgotten our visit! But this didn´t prevent us from setting out all our information stands and informing the pupils. The pupils didn´t show us a lot of interest. Three young teachers announced interest but they disappeared quickly after a few minutes. We hoped that we would have more success in the next school!

In the next school, it was a comprehensive school, we found more interest fortunately! Here especially the mothers looked for consultation. It was more difficult to talk to the pupils because of their young ages. They couldn´t understand the problem of stuttering, yet. The older pupils still had lessons and so we didn´t have any opportunity to talk to them. At 14 o´ clock we arrived at a place near the Central Station. There a camera team and Ruth Heap, the managing director of the BV already waited for us. She had followed us from Cologne to help and enjoy the last days of the campaign with us.

In Hamburg, the press had the most interest. Andreas Brucker, a well-known German actor, who is very popular talked and discussed with people and the press about stuttering for one and a half hour! Andreas Brucker is unfortunately the only prominent person in Germany who doesn´t mind stuttering in public. It´s important for him to support that stuttering will be less and less looked as a problem by the public. We had many discussions with people, parents of stuttering children and therapists. This day we had a lot of fun, so we forgot time and hunger.

In the evening we started to our next destination, Potsdam. After some time we found a nice Hotel where we enjoyed the evening including a good dinner. We all agreed that the afternoon in Hamburg was one of the highpoints of the whole tour.

The next day we arrived at a comprehensive school. Here the pupils and teachers were waiting for us impatiently. It was an indescribable feeling to stand in front of a hundred pupils and to tell them our different experiences from our schooldays. Afterwards the pupils asked us lots of questions. Unfortunately we had to pack quickly because the next school, an elementary school, also waited for us. Here we found even more interest. The pupils between ten and twelve years were very eager to listen and asked us lots of questions. A quiz followed with questions about stuttering. Interestingly, the first prize was won by a stutterer! At the end the teachers told us how convincing it was when different stutterers present their individual kinds of speaking.

Our last stage for this day was the pedestrian precinct in Potsdam. It was the 5 th of May, the Handicappeds´ Day, and some more information stands of handicappeds´ organisations were already there. Some representatives from the local press expected us at the bus. We were pleased because the interest from the public wasn´t so high.

The two school visits in Potsdam were the highpoint of the tour because there we could see success very clearly. We didn´t visit schools in Berlin, because of the week-end. In the morning we started with a sightseeing tour through the town. We visited different places and mingled with the public having many booklets in hand. In the afternoon we drove to a living place where we spent the rest of the day. There we had lots of contacts! Wolfgang Wendlandt, a well-known psychologist and stutter therapist, supported us actively informing the people.

A week, very interesting and rich with experiences finished with the return-journey. We all agreed that the information tour "Stuttering and School" had created new public awarness. The project showed us how important and how urgent the information about stuttering is needed. A project like this shall repeated absolutely. But it will be dependent on sponsors when and in which frame work such a successful project will be take place. The next project like this, the crew won´t travel with the bus, but with private cars because the journey in the bus is too strenuous and you don´t have any possibility to discuss improvements without being disturbed by noise.

When I think back to the situation in Potsdam I can see the great success of this bus tour "Stuttering and School". where a hundred children looked at us wide-eyed. They asked lots of questions, lots of simple questions, for example: "Did you have any friends?" But these questions showed us that they are thinking about the problem of stuttering, that there awareness is growing and that stuttering is only a slow and delayed kind of speaking. They learned that all persons, even those who stutter, are human beings of the same value as themselves.

September 1, 2000