Costa Rica study abroad student Kylah Simmons K’17 was traveling to Washington D.C. to visit her family on January 21 when she was detained in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Staff pulled her aside for about an hour around noon when, in her answer to a question of where she was traveling from, she stuttered on Costa Rica.
Since the incident, her story has been featured on People.com, The Mighty, StutterTalk, and various other online blogs. She has written her story for SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young.
“When I was pulled aside in customs, one of the first questions asked was relating to if there was something wrong with me,” Simmons said. “I explained to the staffer that I had a speech impediment and that I stuttered. Although I explained my disability, I continued to be questioned. In addition, my phone was taken away, restricting any contact with my family, I missed my connecting flight, and I was questioned about my stutter and constantly called dishonest and a liar.”
After the incident Simmons spoke with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection supervisor in Atlanta, wanting only an apology from the staff member and education about stuttering. According to Simmons, there will be two stuttering conferences in Atlanta this year, and many stutterers will be traveling there from all over the world.
“I felt intimidated and bullied, as I was bullied growing up because of my stutter,” Simmons said. “I was questioned about my stutter because he said that I was not stuttering when speaking to him. I think U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well as other institutions, need to be more aware about people with disabilities. I don´t want this to happen again, because I believe that we all have a voice and that we all have a right to speak up when we feel like we have not been treated fairly.”
Melissa McGlensey, the news editor for The Mighty, wrote an article about Simmons’s experience.
“The Mighty first heard about Kylah’s story through a news tip from Nina G, a comedian with a stutter who we’ve worked with in the past,” McGlensey said. “Nina G sent us a blog post she’d written about the incident. I then reached out to Simmons on Facebook to ask her some questions.”
Simmons partnered with The Stuttering Foundation and created a card for stutterers to travel with that said “I STUTTER with information about stuttering.” She also created a hashtag, #DDDetainedInAtlanta to spread awareness and education.
“We were glad to raise awareness for Simmons and others who stutter and hopefully ensure incidents like this begin to happen less and less,” McGlensey said.