Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘American with Disabilities Act

On Sunday July 26, 2020 I had the privilege and opportunity to host a webinar with several influential people in the stuttering community. Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the American with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in the USA on July 26, 1990.

We used the webinar as a platform to share that people who stutter can be protected from exclusion or discrimination in our workplaces, schools and communities. A key focal point is that we who stutter have to feel OK with using the word “Disability” when we talk about our stuttering. Full disclosure allows us to then ask for and receive accommodations so that we can be fully included and have equitable opportunities.

This webinar was hosted by the National Stuttering Association’s innovative “We Stutter @ Work” program.

If you missed us “live,” here is the recording. Check it out – it’s great stuff.

PamEpisode 157 features Haley Mitchem who hails from Alexandria, Virginia. Haley is a Human Resources Manager for a federal contractor. She is also an avid soccer fan and player, playing on a couple of co-ed soccer teams.

We start out our conversation talking about soccer and how she manages her stuttering on the field. She says she is pretty vocal when playing and sometimes when she stutters, by the time she gets the word out, the play is over already! Haley takes this in stride as part of stuttering.

We also talk about her professional work and how she got into HR. Listen in as Haley describes how she actually stumbled into the field. But she definitely doesn’t stumble when at work – she doesn’t let her stuttering hold her back.

And listen as we discuss the transition Haley feels she has made regarding her stuttering, advertising stuttering and her participation in avoidance reduction therapy.

We wrap up this fantastic episode talking about stuttering as a disability and Haley offers advice from her unique perspective as both a person who stutters and a HR professional to job seekers.

The music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.


The International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) online conference is going on right now and can be found here.

I have a paper in the conference this year addressing the issue of whether stuttering is viewed as a disability. And who gets to make that call, the individual affected by stuttering or society?

I relate some of my experiences with talking with high school students who noted my stuttering as a disability even though I had never articulated it as a disability myself. I find it interesting that I’ve also had a boss who referred to me as having a disability when I don’t really consider myself disabled.

However, I have “ticked off” the disability box on applications and questionnaires because technically, stuttering is covered by the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) Act of 1998 and 2010.

I would love your thoughts on The Disability Question.

What do you think? Do you consider stuttering a disability? Who gets to make that determination?

I’ve recently been thinking about disability, as I just finished writing a paper for the October ISAD conference. In my paper, I talk about the role other people play in defining a disability. Sometimes, society regards us as having a disability when we might not.

Interestingly, this coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA,) which was signed into law on July 26, 1990.

I also recently listened to an episode of the Stuttertalk podcast, where the social model of disability was discussed.

My mind wandered back several years ago to this amazing TED Talk by Sharon Emery, who talks about the person who listens as being disabled, as opposed to the person who stutters. I blogged about this a number of years ago, and included the link to Ms. Emery’s talk. It’s so worth watching again.

Also, I’m pretty excited to note that this is my 700th post on this blog. Pretty impressive, if I must say so myself.

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?

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!

This school year I am excited about the potential to offer self-advocacy groups to students transitioning from high school to college. For most students, entering college can be a rude awakening. They go from a relatively safe, structured environment to a college setting where they are expected to be independent and employ self-motivation.

Many students fail miserably at this, as they often move from a high school setting with hundreds of students to a college with thousands of students. This can be  overwhelming, especially if the student has a special need and requires assistance that they have to ask for themselves.

Lots of young people do not know how to stand up for themselves. They may feel intimidated by the process or embarrassed by the potential of being seen as different.

Right now, I am working temporarily at the same school I have been at for about 4 years. I am hoping the system will find me a permanent title, so I can go about the business of helping students navigate through high school and be ready for success in college.

I have been going around to classes this week and presenting sexual harassment prevention training. I have also let students and staff know that I hope to be providing self advocacy groups throughout the year. I explained what self advocacy is and why its an important skill to have.

I surprised myself by using my stuttering as an example. I told every class that I stutter, and what that was like for me in school NOT talking about it and being afraid to volunteer in class or let anyone know.

I shared that now as an adult, I have learned how to talk about it openly and have disclosed in the workplace. I let the students know that I ask for an accommodation. I prefer to not use the public address system in my building, for fear of having my stuttering broadcast through the building.

I told the students that I always imagined that if that happened, everyone would laugh at me. Even though that probably wasn’t true, that is what I thought, and our thoughts sometimes become our reality.

Surprisingly, as I disclosed this personal information about me with class after class, I felt great. I felt empowered and it made sense to relate a personal example of advocacy as I discussed advocacy.

And the students listened intently, and there was not one look of concern, or confusion, or anyone trying to conceal a smile or humor, which I always thought might happen.

I shared with them that now I won’t have to worry about reactions when I stutter in front of them, since I already put it out there to them.

Do you have any similar examples? Or thoughts?

A very timely and interesting article was written this week at 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?

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2022. 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 2022.
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