Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘stuttering as a disability

This is an interesting story that brings up the issues of shame regarding stuttering.

Stutterer and country singer Tim Poe auditioned for the reality TV show  “America’s Got Talent” in Texas this past week. Before performing his song, his pre-interview showed him stuttering. So what, you might say.

Mr. Poe is a military veteran who claims he was injured in combat in Afghanistan and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI.) He claims the stuttering is a result of the TBI.

Within 24 hours of his television audition, the media reported that Mr. Poe lied about being injured and that his stuttering was not the result of an injury, which would have made it neurogenic stuttering. It appears that Mr. Poe has indeed been a life-long stutterer and was so embarrassed that he felt he need to create an elaborate lie about his circumstances.

A lie that illustrates the shame of stuttering and a lie that illustrates disrespect to military veterans who have indeed been gravely injured.

I have heard of people who stutter who make up other reasons to explain stuttering, so they don’t have to admit or acknowledge the stuttering. People have coughed, cleared their throat, said they swallowed wrong, pretend to word switch.

Some people are so embarrassed and ashamed of their stuttering that they will do anything to hide it.

This example is extreme. What do you think?

Episode 11 of the series of conversations with men who stutter features Frank Stechel, who hails from Highland Park, New Jersey. Frank worked for the New York State Education Department for over 30 years, in the vocational rehabilitation field.

Frank felt it was practical for him to work in the disability field, as he was concerned that he might not find work due to his stuttering. He felt it made sense to work for an agency that helped people with disabilities as they wouldn’t discriminate against him.

We talk about being open about stuttering, and how Frank always would bring it up and invite questions during job interviews. Being open has always been most important to Frank.

Listen in as we discuss different speech therapy experiences, including the Hollins fluency shaping program. Frank uses fluency shaping tools he learned to modify his stuttering. We also discuss the variability of stuttering and how he often plays with different techniques to this day.

I look forward to meeting Frank and his wife at the National Stuttering Association conference in July of this year. Feel free to leave comments and feedback for Frank, or just thank him for sharing his story.

Music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

An interesting article appears in today’s Business Management Daily about a worker who stutters who is hoping to get a promotion at her job.

She is told by her supervisor that the new manager would be brought in from another department.

When the worker asks why, she is told, “we know you work well with the other typists. They know about your stutering problem. But this is for a manager position. What about the communica­tion skills?”

She is further told, “We simply wouldn’t be doing you a favor by promoting you into a job you couldn’t handle.”

Couldn’t handle? I stutter and speak publicly in my job every day! To managers, communications specialists, teachers, administrators.

Read the full article here. There is some brief discussion on the American’s With Disability Act (ADA.) What do you think? Is this for real, or as friend Burt suggests, written as a parody?

In yet another current media article about stuttering, this time in the Huffington Post, psychoanalyst Peter Wolson suggests that the cause of stuttering may be psychological. Read his complete piece here: Is Stuttering Biological or Psychological? (10/16/2011)

In part, he writes: “There is abundant research evidence for a biological predisposition for stuttering; however, environmental stressors, such as family relations, can produce internal psychological conflicts that cause stuttering.”

There were quite a few comments, including mine. I heard from some readers in the stuttering community that their comments were not approved to be posted on the article.

What do you think? There are many perspectives on this topic.

Kudos to my young friend, Philip Garber, who is featured in this New York Times article today, A Stutterer Faces Resistance, From the Front of the Class.

I know Philip, who is 16 years old, from the NSA. I have known him for a couple of years, so have had the opportunity to see him “grow up” as a young person with a profound stutter.

I also know Philip’s mom, Marin, who is mentioned in the article. I got to spend more time getting to know Marin at this year’s NSA conference in Ft Worth, Texas. We ran into each other at the airport on the way to Texas (!), and hung out quite a bit, sharing some meals together.

When this discouraging incident happened with Philip last month, Marin emailed me and asked my opinion of how Philip might handle the matter. We bantered a few thoughts back and forth, but ultimately Philip decided how it would be handled. He is quite skilled at self-advocacy.

I suggested that Philip should do a presentation to the faculty on stuttering awareness, and am pleased that he IS going to do this at some point.

Please take the time to read this article and the many comments (355 the last I saw!) The reactions are mixed.

What do you think? Do you think Philip was discriminated against? Do you think that the professor was reasonable in asking that Philip not speak in class? Is the article too one-sided? What lessons can be learned from this scenario?

Here’s a video that Philip did last year to commemorate International Stuttering Awareness Day, which is October 22. Hard to remember he is only a kid!

Episode 63 features “regular guest” Nina G who hails from San Francisco, CA. Nina bills herself as the Bay Area’s only female stuttering comic. She has been performing stand-up comedy for well over a year and has become a favorite in the Bay area comedy community.

Nina G has been featured twice before on this podcast, and we are so fortunate to see and hear her progression from just starting out in comedy, to being a successful and sought-after comedian. If you have not yet been introduced to Nina, check her out here in Reclaiming Her Space and Standing Up.

In today’s episode, we talk about what it was like for Nina G to perform for the first time in front of a stuttering audience. With the help of some friends from the NSA, Nina performed live at Rick O’Shea’s in downtown Ft Worth Texas. There were over 100 people who stutter in the audience, which is not the norm for any of Nina’s shows.

We talk about how that felt, being kind of surreal to finally be performing in front of “her people” and the bittersweet feeling knowing that she won’t soon get this opportunity again. It also felt surreal for me, to be in the audience and hear and watch Nina perform live, as I have previously only seen videos of her performance. (And I was recording!)

Credit for the podcast safe music used in this episode goes to ccMixter.

Below are two videos clips of Nina’s performances. The first is the “live” performance at Rick O’Shea’s in Ft Worth, Texas. Listen for where Nina “shouts me out” twice! (You can be sure I was thrilled to know I was recording when I heard that!) And the second video is Nina explaining to an audience back home what it feels like to have “stuttering withdrawal.”

Feel free to leave comments for either Nina or me. Feedback is a gift, and important. Be part of the dialogue!

A very timely and interesting article was written this week at Cincinatti.com about a police officer who stutters who is being reassigned. He believes his reassignment will endanger his life and others, as he will not be as effective in his road patrol role.

Because of his stuttering, Ken Parson would likely have trouble quickly yelling “Stop, police!” to a bad guy or calling “Officer needs assistance!”, in part, because Parson’s stuttering gets worse when he’s under stress.

Parson also would have a hard time gaining respect from suspects if he stutters. “The attitude might be: ‘No way, I’m not stopping for a stutterer.'”

In his role as a detective, Parson’s speech impediment worked in his favor. His stuttering has disarmed some suspects into confessing.

Under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), Parson is entitled to a “reasonable accommodation” of his disability. But Parson is not seeking anything other than keeping his current role.

“What they’re doing is removing the accommodation by moving him from his detective job, which he functions very well in, and onto road patrol. That decision is inconsistent with safety.”  Parson has retained a lawyer and is fighting the reassignment.

This will be interesting to follow and see how the law and the ADA respond to this case, where indeed stuttering is a disability in Parson’s job as a police officer. This article was a great follow-up to my recent post on “Who Gets To Make The Choice?” 

In this case, I definitely believe this officer’s stuttering is a disability that requires reasonable accommodation in order for him to perform his job effectively and safely.

What do you think? Thoughts? Comments? Let’s continue the discussion.

I have never written about how I feel about stuttering being a disability. I have been asked about it and I have talked about it, both with those who stutter and those who don’t.  I know disability can be a very contentious subject, because some feel strongly that stuttering is a disability and others feel if it doesn’t limit their life, then it’s not.

I believe that my stuttering is not a disability (there was a time it was). It does not substantially limit my ability to speak or communicate today, as defined by the American’s With Disability Act  of 1990 (ADA), which was amended in 2008.

These days, I speak and communicate very effectively, even on the days when I stutter a lot. There was a time when I did not. I was so afraid of stuttering publicly and being judged, that I often opted out of speaking situations, or avoided. That fear was very disabling to me. I felt invisible.

The ADA definition of disability also means whether a person has a record of an impairment or is “regarded as having an impairment”, whether or not the impairment impedes a major life activity. Which in the case of stuttering, would be speaking and communication.

It’s this part that I want to speak to – being regarded as having a disability. I recently had a conversation with my supervisor about upcoming changes in my job assignment. My current position has been abolished effective June 30, and I have been laid off. I am hopeful that another position will be available for me to remain within the same organization.

My supervisor mentioned that the grant funding has changed direction. The major initiative of our grant will focus on ensuring access and equity of services and programs to special needs populations. This will include not only groups with disabilities, but also economically under-served groups.

My boss mentioned that I would be perfect for this position because of my disability. I was offended by how he said this. I don’t consider myself disabled, and am bothered that my boss obviously does. This is not the first reference he has made about stuttering as a disability.

Last year, when he did my annual evaluation and went over it with me, he said, “aren’t you proud of me that I didn’t use the term “disability” once in your evaluation?” And the year before that, after my first public speaking event at school, he commented, “you didn’t have to try to climb the mountain and ride your bicycle up it also all in the same night.”

When I had asked him what he had meant by that, he further explained, “if you knew you were going to butcher the kid’s names, why didn’t you ask someone else to read the names for you?” I remember writing about this before, and also remember how angry I felt by what he said.

There is a good chance I may get a position serving special populations (which I have been doing indirectly for a long time anyway). I will need to be an even louder advocate for those who can’t always advocate for themselves. I have been thinking a lot about where I stand on my stuttering being a disability.

Because I am known to stutter, therefore, I am obviously “regarded as” a stutterer, which fits the definition of disability under the ADA. But I don’t consider myself disabled. And my boss’s perception of me having a disability, while certainly not bad, somehow doesn’t sit right with me.

A friend of mine said that I should label my stuttering as a disability if I plan to move along with my small business. That it will net me more opportunities, being able to use the term “minority owned” business. Like getting two for the price of one. Being a woman and disabled would possibly steer more business my way.

I definitely don’t like the idea of “using the disability card.” But I know some people do, to move forward in life.

What do you think of this? Whose choice should it be to consider one’s stuttering a disability?

Episode 28 features Carolina Ayala,who hails from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Carolina works supporting people with intellectual disabilities. She is passionate about putting a positive spin on the label”disability”, and shares her personal perception of stuttering as a disability.

Carolina attended York University in Toronto and fulfilled the requirements in 2009 for a Master of Arts  in the graduate program in Critical Disability Studies. She wrote a thesis research paper on stuttering, identity and acceptance.

I met Carolina at a NSA Conference in New Jersey in 2008, but really got to know her better this year at the NSA Conference in Cleveland. We spent a lot of time talking and she gave me a copy of her thesis research paper. I read it over the summer and asked Carolina to consider sharing her story in this forum.

Listen in as we discuss self image, friends and fitting in, discrimination, authenticity, or as Carolina puts it, being robbed of her true self. Carolina also discusses her role as a child in a documentary about stuttering called “Speaking of Courage.” And she reminds us of the importance of “listen to what I say, not how I say it.”

Credit for the podcast safe music “Scott Waves to April’s Salty Grace” goes to ccMixter.

Feel free to leave comments. Carolina would be especially interested if anyone would like to further discuss her thesis research on stuttering as related to a disability. She welcomes feedback or questions.


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2014.
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