Make Room For The Stuttering

Should Stutterers Get More Time?

Posted on: June 10, 2009

A new friend and I had a conversation the other day about the things that really matter. We were talking about how we have to make time for the important things, especially in these fast-paced days of ours. Jack shared with me how Einstein beautifully summed up his understanding of time: “It’s what keeps everything from happening all at once.”

We all feel the pressures of time.  I have wished there was 8 days in a week or just two more hours in a day. With this extra time, I could get so much more done. But at what price? I have started thinking about that a lot, about how time measures so much. Puts so much pressure on us, me, to succeed, to do more, to try harder, or to miss opportunities or to fail.

One of my favorite oldie songs is “Time In A Bottle”  by Jim Croce. I liked it when it first came out and still like it now. (Heres a piece of  sad trivia. The song reached the top of the charts in December 1973, three months after Croce’s death in a plane crash.  I had also loved another song of Croce’s,  “Bad Bad Leroy Brown”. That was one of my favorites to sing into my pretend microphone – my hairbrush! I never stuttered when I sang!).

So why this focus on time? Well, the quote that Jack shared with me really made me think about some of my time issues, and something specific that came up just recently about timing. I did a speech a couple of weeks ago, and it was really good.

One of my Toastmaster colleagues suggested to me that I take that speech, tweak it a bit, and enter next year’s Toastmaster International Speech contest. I said no right away, that I am not a contest person. He was encouraging me, offered to help, etc.

I told him that I could never do that, because Toastmaster speeches are timed and I can never stay within the time limits. I went on to say that sometimes my stuttering creates extra pauses, unplanned hesitations, and that I often speak in a slower rate, to have more control. This takes longer, and I have not been able to stay within the time limits. He then said, “Oh, we can probably accommodate for that.”

I didn’t ask him at the time what he meant, because I was a bit flustered. He might have meant that maybe I would be allowed more time because of the stuttering. I am not sure if I would like that.

When I have given speeches at my local Toastmaster’s club, I am very aware of the time. We have a time keeper, who flashes colors, to help you stay within time limits. I hate it, because my time always runs out. When “red” is flashed, you are supposed to wrap up and finish. Many times, I am well over. People comment about it. Sometimes, I feel as if I am failing to meet this goal. Other times, I don’t care. But I don’t like the feeling of everyone watching me “go over time.”

In a speech contest, if you go over or under time, you are disqualified. I don’t even want to take that risk. To me, that’s unnecessary pressure. And for what? To win a trophy? To win? Sure, it would be nice. Is this something I am really missing out on?

Other time issues – my phone calls seem to take forever, as well as ordinary conversations. This doesn’t bother me as much, because I enjoy good old fashioned conversations. I actually relish talking with people these days, in sharp contrast to days of old when I would avoid talking. Sometimes I feel time pressures on the phone, especially when having to leave a dreaded message on voice mail. Too many times, the time has run out and I have had to call back to finish my message. I hate that. Has it ever happened to you?

So, all this brings me to the question. Should people who stutter be given extra time, as an accommodation? Should I get more time to give a Toastmasters speech? Should kids who stutter be given more time in class when reporting orally or reading aloud? Is that a fair or unfair accommodation?

Personally, I would not like being given extra time at a speech contest. That’s why I don’t want to do one. I think I should have to adapt, and prepare less material, knowing that I will go over time. Food for thought, yes? I would love to hear your ideas or comments on this.

Copyright © 2009

7 Responses to "Should Stutterers Get More Time?"

Hey Pam. This is an interesting question, one that can relate to employment. The Stuttertalk guys brought this up as a question about flight attendants – can a PWS be fired or denied employment because it would take longer to take drink orders, and could cause delays on a short flight in getting everyone served? I always wondered about the in-flight announcements and the safety issues with verbal communication, but I never thought about the time issue.

They also mentioned waiting tables and taking orders – that stuttering could interfere with getting orders in quickly and turning tables quckly during a shift. Slow speech COULD interfere with speed, but I don’t think it would be prohibitive. I think that if you do your job effectively and provide good service, you can still do the job effectively.

Not sure about Toastmaster’s but it’s a tricky question when you’re working with kids. You don’t want them to feel singled out when the rest of the class is told that they get extra time because they’re “special”. Students with disabilities get enough of that. But perhaps they should be given the choice. And I think PWS should be self aware enough to know when to ask for it as an accommodation.


Hi, thanks for the read and comments. I must have missed the episode where the guys talked about this – they have so many!

I was so quick to say no when the guy asked me to consider entering the speech contest, because the timing is really an issue with me. And I just don’t know if it would ultimatley be worth it to me to try and “beat the clock.”

As for kids, I bring it up, because I am now working in a school, and while there are no kids here who stutter, there are other speech impairments as well as IEPs and 504 plans. We have to make accomodations, so I just pondered the question for kids who stutter.

I wouldn’t have wanted while I was in school – I stuttered more severely then, but I might have wanted extra time when doing my final practicum oral presentation in College. It was so painfully difficult for me and my classmates.

Techie, storyteller, and shorthand-fanatic speaking up here.

The simplified version is: Since your stuttering varies, an extra 10% would only be right on some days.

What about word count?

Average speaking speed is between 100 and 140 wpm. High level court reporters and closed captioning need 250 for peaks.

Can you record your table topic speeches and get a word count? Is the problem the stuttering, or do you do what most of us do — try to cram too much information into those two minutes? Or do you hesitate or use too many “extra” words?

For concerts, it’s different. It’s very rude to go over your allotted time. It leaves the other tellers with less time, or the concert runs over. I usually ask for 10% more than I expect to need. It’s easier to stretch a story on the fly than shorten it. Professional tellers have “accordion” stories. They’ve prepared a few ways of telling it, with different lengths. They also have several “back pocket” stories, ready to pull out to fill in time.

It’s the same for a presentation at work or a seminar, when your audience has somewhere to be when it’s over. It’s better to plan in flexibility, so you know what to add or cut if your day is good or bad.

At the contest, it’s up to the judges. Ask them in advance. Be prepared for them to base their answer on stuttering as they understand it. Explain that you can’t predict in advance how much time your stuttering will take up. Also mention it’s harder to fit in as many facts because you have fewer words in the allotted time. But, it’s a contest. Part of it is the rules, which can never exactly mirror real life.

I did a table topics last night – came in at 2:30. The only one who went over! I also did an evaluation, and went 3:30. So 30 seconds over both times, not a big deal, but over.
Last night I was stuttering well and found myself trying to reign it in a little, I believe. So I may have added a few pauses which dragged the time out.
When I opened the meeting and read the club vision, I stuttered on just about every other word. Always happens when reading. But, that part is not timed! 🙂

Hey Pam!!

I say take every oppurtunity to help any kind of stuttering at any speech. Ask for extra time. But it’s realy up to you. If you think you don’t need it, that’s fine. If you think extra time might help you in a toast master speech, by all means- ask for it!

This is a tough one and is very relative. I hate to be singled out at times for my stuttering and at other times would not mind getting more attention, having more people understand that something about me is not normal (my speech) and I should therefore be accomodated as much as possible.

The Toastmasters thing is even more tricky because they have a time system that they run on. I would therefore prefer to do it as you suggest, prepare less material that you fall within the timelines. Would’nt that be shortchanging yourself though.

Hi Pam,

Just wanted to weigh-in with my two cents… I don’t think “stutterers” should be given more time–just doesn’t seem like a good idea… it would feel to me as being pandered to.

I’d rather think this is an opportunity for people who stutter to strengthen their skills in being very succinct as they learn to give their message using less words until they become more confident in their ability to communicate well.

I find that most people have a tendency of being too wordy anyway so this may be a good compromise and a healthy outlook!

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