Make Room For The Stuttering

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Episode 238 features Lisa Nguyen, who hails from Raleigh, North Carolina. Lisa works in home health care, and plans to start a graduate certificate degree in Health Administration Management. Her career goal is to help improve the efficiency of our health care system and contribute to lowering the costs of health care.

Lisa spent time as a hospice volunteer. She enjoys hearing about the personal experiences and life stories of older people. She says she’ll encourage those adults who are able, to do life reviews. For those who cannot, Lisa is happy to be there and hold their hand.

Lisa is also co-chapter leader of the adult National Stuttering Association (NSA) support group chapter in Raleigh. Her SLP and NSA chapter leader was impressed with the work Lisa had done over the years with her stuttering and felt Lisa was ready for a leadership role. Lisa has taken to it like a fish out of water.

Listen in as we discuss presence, moving forward and disclosure. It’s clear that Lisa also has the skill of “listening in all the right places.”

Episode 226 features Stephanie Nicolai, who hails from San Diego, CA, and presently lives in Peoria, Arizona. Stephanie is married and a mom to a 2 and 1/2 year old son, and works full time as a psychologist.

I wondered why Stephanie chose a profession where she literally talks all day. She explains taking a psychology course while still in high school and wound up loving it. She says she is passionate about human behavior. Stephanie also mentions the natural empathy she can pour into other people.

Listen in as we talk about stuttering trauma and how humans have more in common with each other than they think they do.

We also talk about how the National Stuttering Association was a game changer for both her and her parents. Stephanie’s first NSA experience was at a “Family Fun Day.” it was there that Stephanie first heard other people stuttering and then she and her parents were hooked. Stephanie describes her parents as very supportive and involved in the NSA. Her mom started NSA chapters for kids and teens, and both parents can be seen in some volunteer capacity at annual conferences.

We also discuss the unique, fun opportunity Stephanie had when she auditioned and landed a spot on the TV show “Wheel of Fortune.” Stephanie’s episode aired recently. We’ll let you listen in to hear how she fared on the show.

We marveled how a person who stutters can do anything, including appearing on a national TV show and do well. She says, “we are our own worst enemies.”

Go for what you want – don’t let stuttering stop you. Lemonade sure tastes good.

 

I had an amazing opportunity last week to be a guest panelist for an event hosted by the Peruvian Stuttering Association. For International Stuttering Awareness Day, they held a week long festival for all things stuttering. I thought that was so wonderful, to intentionally raise awareness of stuttering for an extended period of time.

The organizer invited me to participate in a panel session on Friday October 23, from 7-9pm. I started off a bit intimidated, as I was the only woman who stuttered on the panel, and the only one who did not speak Spanish. It felt so weird. I had a translator assigned to me and when I realized he knew his stuff, I relaxed and began to enjoy the experience.

The first part of the panel was for each of us to give a brief overview of our country’s stuttering association. I spoke about the mission and vision of the National Stuttering Association. I spoke 4 or 5 sentences at a time and the translator repeated what I said back to the audience in Spanish. Then the other two panelists, from Argentina and Columbia, gave their overviews in Spanish and the translator typed in the Zoom chat box what was being said.

The second part of the panel was a 90 minute Q&A with audience members, who asked questions in Spanish on the live feed as the whole event was held on Zoom and then streamed through Facebook Live. I did not know that it was going to be live streamed until about 30 minutes ahead of the event.

I had the rare opportunity to possibly feel like the lone person who stutters in a large room of many fluent people. I felt alone in a crowded space. I imagine that’s how people who stutter feel until they are welcomed into the space they are in.

And that’s exactly how it played out for me. Once I got over the initial nerves of not knowing the language and realized that my translator wasn’t going to leave me hanging, I actually enjoyed the experience.

I was able to talk about the NSA’s vast network of support chapters across the USA, and how they are like a lifeline to people who stutter. For many who stutter, attending a local NSA chapter meeting may be their very first introduction to others who stutter and the empowerment felt when around others who stutter.

I was able to talk about how support meetings are facilitated, the role of the chapter leader, inviting everyone to speak and give permission to just listen. When I talked about the importance of honoring silence among people who stutter, I could see that definitely struck a chord with the panelists because they felt when that happened they had failed as group leaders. So we talked about how facilitation is more like guiding a group discussion rather than actually leading and feeling that every space must be filled with words.

I also had the opportunity to talk about inviting women into the stuttering spaces that we create. The South America stuttering leaders really valued that part of the conversation and pledged to explore that further and look at opportunities to find and welcome women who stutter.

We also spent time discussing initiatives to promote better career outcomes for people who stutter in the employment process. I was able to share what the NSA has done with our “We Stutter @ Work” program.

This experience was a major leap away from my comfort zone but as I reflected on it, it was a real honor and privilege to represent women who stutter in a traditionally male oriented space.

I hope to be invited and participate in more of such opportunities.

Episode 222 features Aisha Haynes, who hails from Columbia, South Carolina. Dr. Aisha Haynes is the Assistant Director for the Center for Teaching Excellence. She teaches two online courses at the university. For fun, Aisha enjoys traveling, trying and eating new food, and adventurous activities.

Aisha had been a covert stutterer for many years. She shares that it’s only been over the last 5 years or so that she has given herself permission to “stutter really well.”

Listen in as we discuss disclosure and advertising, not being able to hide stuttering anymore, and being more comfortable in her stuttering skin. The title of this episode comes from an article that Aisha was featured in at her university, which she describes as her “coming out story.”

Below please find a video of Aisha and colleague Dr. Charley Adams discussing stuttering at the university.

I had such a wonderful experience this week, presenting to an organization and people I did not know about stuttering at work.

This has been a vision of mine for quite a few years now. If people who stutter are going to be truly supported and included in all aspects of life, we have to educate the people in our worlds that do not stutter.

People who stutter want to be successful in school and at work. So schools, universities and workplaces need to hear stuttering, normalize it and get over the fears associated with hiring people who stutter.

It was a very surreal experience for me – to have traveled down to Northern Virginia to meet with people interested in “hidden disabilities” and stutter openly, without fear or anxiety. People at this workplace truly want to be inclusive of everyone who brings difference and new perspectives. I was welcomed with open arms, and spoke to an audience of about 50, 20 or so in-person and the rest calling in from other company sites via Skype.

The main theme of my presentation is what is gained through being completely open and vulnerable about something that is often widely misunderstood and stigmatized. I spoke of the strengths people who stutter have innately, because of our lived experience with stuttering. We bring grit, perseverance, resilience, patience and empathy to work – all of which are valuable competencies any employer wants.

The best way to make change and help people understand stuttering is so simple: TALK ABOUT IT. Make it less of a mystery, normalize it, frame what is often perceived as a weakness as a great strength.

In so doing, we will help workplaces become more inclusive for today’s workers who stutter and for the young people behind us, who will enter the workforce. Hopefully, my efforts and those of other adults who are not afraid to be vulnerable, will help lessen the stigma and burden of trying to hide stuttering in the workplace.

The company that I presented at recorded my presentation. I am looking forward to seeing that, and more importantly, looking forward to getting more workplaces to see the value of talking about stuttering at work.

It’s freeing and hopeful.

Episode 209 features Phyllis Edwards who hails from New Zealand. Phyllis shares that she is 66 years young and has finally felt empowered to tell her story. I “met” Phyllis through her amazing contribution on the 2019 ISAD online conference. Phyllis has a supportive husband and children and works in an early childhood center, with 2-5 year old children.

Phyllis only discovered the stammering community about 18 months ago when she searched the internet about stammering and then found herself attending two conferences in different parts of the world, the BSA conference in 2018 in Cardiff, Wales and the World Congress in Iceland this past June 2019. To say that magic has happened in Phyllis’s life is really an understatement.

Listen in to this conversation, so full of emotion, from being a bit choked up to laughing quite freely, about a topic that Phyllis never dreamed she’d be so open about. Phyllis shares how her husband and children helped to make conference attendance a reality.

Part of Phyllis’s story that we as women who stutter can probably all relate to is that we have something in us – a seed – that makes us stronger, and it takes each individual to find that exact right time to be open to and embrace that we are worthy, stammering and all.

Phyllis believes it is time to pay it forward, and talks about how it “takes a village” to own our stammering.

I am glad I am a small part of Phyllis’s village.

Episode 208 features Kelsey Hoff, who presently hails from Amman, Jordan. Kelsey is a return guest, from this episode of eight years ago, where Kelsey talked about living her passion. Now, eight later, she is sure living her passion. Today, Kelsey is married, speaks fluent Arabic and has a multi-cultural private therapy practice.

Listen in as we discuss experiences Kelsey has had coming to terms with stuttering in English versus Arabic. She has had to circle back to what acceptance means re: stuttering because she had reached that point in English but old feelings of inadequacy resurfaced when she stuttered more in Arabic.

Kelsey also shared the critical importance of “owning and knowing your story” in order to portray your true self to the world. Here, she talks about experiencing a bit of “impostor syndrome” when she felt she wasn’t good enough to be a professional who stutters.

And we dive into psychology and what being a counselor who stutters has brought to the counseling space. Kelsey shares that she is comfortable sitting with people in their pain and “holding that space.” Kelsey talks about how she has reached the place where she knows she offers a presence and words that are meaningful.

She chooses every word and nothing is wasted, not even silence. She recalls feeling at times that her lack of words (because of stuttering) was a waste and she now revels in feeling liberated because she IS enough.

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

On Friday, I went for the third year in a row to help with a collaborative mock interview event held at Goldman Sach’s NYC office. Employees from Goldman Sachs volunteered to help people who stutter practice interview skills in a stutter friendly environment that simulated real interviews.

A small team of people who stutter educated the volunteers who were spending their day learning about stuttering and how effective communication is not attributed to fluent speech.

I knew several of the volunteers as they’ve participated in each event, and they remembered me. Several indicated that this day has been very meaningful and helped them realize this is a way to “give back” and help job seekers in a very tangible way.

It was hugs all around when I arrived and greeted these who are now friends.

It is so empowering to share stories of stuttering and vulnerability to people who don’t share that experience and see the power of authenticity.

One guy came and spoke with me and shared that he vividly remembers when I participated in the first event in 2017. He said he was mesmerized by my story and how I commanded the room when speaking. We talked about how he raised his hand and shared with his colleagues for the first time ever that he also stutters and had always hid it. That was a powerful moment for him.

And it was an extremely powerful moment for me when I saw him on the diversity and inclusion panel at the end of the day. He shared his story of how much easier it’s been for him to build relationships with colleagues because he’s no longer covering up such an integral part of his self.

Honesty and authenticity fosters deeper relationships, which in turn increases productivity and team work.

What an exciting, life changing experience this has come to be and not just for those who stutter.

Everyone benefits when everyone can feel free to be true to themselves in the workplace, the place where most adults spend most of their time.

 

I returned from my 14th consecutive National Stuttering Association annual conference on Sunday evening. It’s now Tuesday evening and I’m still recovering from the screwy schedule and overall weird week.

The conference had a much different vibe for me this year. For one thing, I did not lead or help with any workshops, for the first time since my second conference way back in 2007. It felt strangely naked to not always be looking at the time, and planning to leave sessions early to prepare for something else. My only responsibilities this year were to help lead the first timers activities and I wound up not even doing that.

The annual conference this year was held in steamy Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was hot and incredibly humid the whole week. I literally only went out of the hotel two times in six days. It was stifling hot and I always find it harder to breathe in sweltering conditions like that, I get headaches and I fatigue much faster than normal.

The hotel and a five block radius lost power for most of the day on Wednesday, the official “start” of the 4 day conference. That meant there was no air conditioning for about 16 hours. The Board of Directors had our summer meeting in a sweltering room Wednesday morning and then I was down for the count. I felt sick and nauseous from being overheated and I quickly became dehydrated, which triggered my inflammation.

I wound up staying in my room for the rest of Wednesday and all day on Thursday too. By Thursday, power was back and I just took it easy in the AC and drank lots of water and felt normal again by Friday.

I felt so bad to have missed some things those two days but I have been getting much better at taking care of myself. I knew if I didn’t choose to hibernate, I would have missed things on both of the last days too. So I made the right decision.

I attended several really good sessions on Friday, including a last minute meet-up for covert stutterers. About 40 of us showed up just from word of mouth and it turned out to be one of the most powerful hours (for me) of the conference. People shared openly and with such raw emotion how it feels to sometimes hide our stutter and the complex feelings that arise from constantly trying to do so.

I also attended sessions on job interviewing (which is particularly applicable to me personally right now) and one which aimed to discuss implicit bias at work but kind of missed the boat a bit, which actually was quite OK because it spurred great dialogue.

I also had the chance to connect with several people I’d only met online so it was great to meet people in person and intentionally take time to connect. I often didn’t take the time to do this at previous conferences since I was busy with several workshops and leading other events.

I missed spending time with several close friends who I actually hardly saw at all, which contributed to the “weird vibe” I felt all week. A group of us always sat together at the Saturday night closing banquet. This year, I wasn’t part of that and it was OK. It gave me space to connect with Ariel, and meet Joseph’s wife, and talk with Sage and his wife, and Shannon and meet her mother, and go have a meal with Dana and Derek. Those moments were medicinal for me, like oxygen, like friend Hanan often says.

The highlight of the conference for me came Friday night, when I leaped far out of my comfort zone and participated in the inaugural session of a poetry “Stutter Slam.” I wrote an original piece and shared when it was my turn. I was nervous to deliver something so personal but it felt right. To my surprise, I won the event. I have received numerous requests from people to share a copy of my poem. Funny, I don’t want to do that because it doesn’t look right on paper, it only came out the way it did through the spoken delivery. Below is a recording of my performance. It felt so good and so right to share.

 

 

Episode 201 features Juliette Blondeau, who hails from Cypress and presently lives in Paris, France. Juliette is 21 years old and she is setting the world on fire. She is in her last year of her undergraduate degree, studying politics and Islamic Theology. She is also a newly elected member of the Board of Directors of the French Stuttering Association.

Juliette and a fellow newly elected French Stuttering Association Board member are working on two challenging projects for people who stutter. They just completed a very successful eloquence contest over a course of seven weeks and are now developing a guidebook so that other countries can benefit if they wish. This is a great example of “improving the wheel,” instead of “recreating the wheel.” They are also working on an ambitious workplace stuttering awareness project.

Listen in as we discuss the benefits of disclosing your stutter, collaboration, the importance of empathy and connection, and how stuttering can be a really powerful and useful “people compass.”

It was so wonderful to chat with Juliette, as her enthusiasm and passion is contagious.

Note: there are a few awkward moments in the audio, due to a poor internet connection. Juliette is in France and I am in the USA, after all. I did not want to edit out too much of Juliette’s thoughts so there is a bit of static throughout, but it’s not too distracting.

The music clip used today is credited to ccMixter.

NYCRecently, on May 28, I had the amazing opportunity to present an awareness session about stuttering at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Employment for People with Disabilities. I had been invited by the director of the department after he heard me speak at another event in NYC.

The team was keenly interested to learn about the wealth of resources that are available to stutterers in the NYC metro area, including six local NSA chapters where people who stutter meet up in person for support and solidarity.

I talked about my own personal experiences with bias and discrimination in the workplace and shared the employment advocacy program that the National Stuttering Association recently launched to help individuals who stutter and prospective employers through education about stuttering.

It was an exciting day. The NYC Mayor’s Office is committed to help spread awareness about stuttering to employers who may be afraid to hire someone who stutters. And that’s a big deal – because there is about 80,000 people who stutter in NYC.

I have been reflecting a lot on the value of being authentic in all of my places. I have been reading and boning up on being courageous at work.

I came across this great Forbes article called The Importance of Being Courageously Vulnerable at Work. 

The author, Patrick Williams, a leadership coach, asks, “Is there a gap between who you say you are and how you reveal yourself in the world of work?”

We all have things we hide due to shame, embarrassment, guilt or even unexpressed dreams we may have given up on, and we often put those in our shadow. Williams challenges us to acknowledge and own your (shadow) or it will own you.

This really resonated with me. I try to be authentic at work, as I truly believe it invites others to do so as well and then stronger relationships are forged.

I have been actively involved in the National Stuttering Association for about 12 years now. I am proud to share that a workplace advocacy initiative that I’ve been championing for over a year has launched. We Stutter @ Work is ambitious, new and requires that people who stutter be willing to be open and stutter nakedly at work.

I do that. I stutter openly and nakedly at work. It’s OK. People are listening to what I say and not how I say it. Occasionally I might get unsupportive remarks or reactions when I stutter on the phone. I usually say something, like “Oh, I stutter. No biggie, right?” I don’t apologize. I used to, years ago. I never do today. There’s nothing to apologize for.

The workplace is no longer the 9 to 5 we used to view it as. It’s at least one-third of our daily life. We are “human beings”, not “human doings.” More of our “being” needs to be present in the workplace, and we should encourage others to do so as well. It makes workplaces better, stronger and helps people feel like they belong. Right?

What do you think? Have you had any experiences where you’ve been courageously vulnerable at work? How did it make you feel? Do you and can you stutter openly at work?

PamEpisode 181 features 21-year-old Mikaela, who hails from San Diego, California, after having moved there on a whim six months ago from Vermont. Mikaela works in a float position with the County of San Diego, which means every 3 months she gets reassigned and gets to manage being open with new people about stuttering.

Mikaela’s real passion is EMS and Firefighting. Once her Vermont certification transfers to California, Mikaela plans to work in this field, which of course is a highly demanding communication field. We talk about how she manages and how lucky she’s been to have had “stutter friendly workplaces.”

This episode is really about how Mikaela found support and what that means. She met up with people who stutter on Stutter Social and then when she decided to move to California, she was referred to the local NSA Chapter. It was the first time Mikaela had met someone in person who also stutters.

Mikaela actually immersed herself in stuttering support over 6 months and found herself at the recent annual NSA conference as a first timer. Her experiences and insights are incredible. It’s also wonderful to hear what it was like to meet people in person that she’d only met online.

If you’ve been unsure about how meeting other people who stutter can change your life, listen to this conversation. It’s truly a testament to how “finding your tribe” can be a game changer.

The music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

 

I came across a post in one of the stuttering forums written by a young man who shared that his assistant manager at work has been blatantly mocking his stuttering. This has occurred in front of other co-workers and sometimes in front of customers as well.

The young man wrote that he’s talked to the owner in an attempt to get some assistance. He feels the owner can only do so much as the assistant manager doesn’t do the mocking in front of the owner.

He is considering contacting someone at the corporate level to ask for help in getting the harassment to stop. He worries that may be “too much” and asks if there is anything else that could be done.

I feel for this person. It is utterly disrespectful to be mocked at work by a manager. I remember when this happened to me, many years ago, before I was fired from my job because of stuttering. My director would laugh, slap his face and roll his eyes when I stuttered during meetings. He had no problem doing this in front of others. I felt embarrassed and ashamed and helpless to stop him, as he, after all, was a director and an authority figure. He was also a big guy and I honestly always felt intimidated by him.

I didn’t do anything when he harassed me. I just sucked it up and wound up feeling like crap and let negative self-talk take up space in my head. When I left meetings after such ridicule and disrespect, I would go to a bathroom and cry and then compose myself.

Now, years later, after finding support and empowerment through support organizations such as the National Stuttering Association, I have learned to advocate and stand up for myself. I would feel OK to let an offender know that it is unacceptable workplace behavior and I would attempt to educate about stuttering. I would also not hesitate to involve Human Resource staff so that they too could take steps to eliminate a hostile work environment.

Not everyone is in that place to stand up and confront harassment. You really have to have reached a place of acceptance and self-actualization in your journey in order to advocate for yourself.

So, what would you do? How would you handle this if it was you? What advice might you offer someone facing this type of behavior at work?

I’d love your thoughts.

 

I recently got an email from someone wondering if a list exists of workplaces that are “stutter friendly.” Those are my choice of words. The person emailing me described such a workplace as “not scared” to hire someone who stutters and that wouldn’t look down negatively on the stuttering.

I am not aware of such a list but one might readily exist that we could generate just by asking people who stutter where they work. People who stutter who are employed are already in workplaces that have shown that they are not scared of stuttering and value the person’s skills and contributions more than they worry about stuttering.

The person who reached out indicated that she has been looking for work for over two years and can’t get past the interview phase. She believes it’s because of her stuttering. I pondered how to reply to her. She is an IT Engineer so definitely has skills and abilities that make her employable.

I have no list of “stutter friendly” workplaces that I can just forward her. I wanted to be encouraging and helpful so I asked her where she lives and what types of jobs she’s been applying to. I’m hoping she’ll reply back and maybe I will know someone in her field and in her geographic area that might be able to point her to a good job lead with an employer who values both skills and diversity.

It would be really cool if the National Stuttering Association (NSA) could develop a network of employers in the United States who are “stutter friendly” for just these kinds of situations. In my work as a member of the Board of the NSA, I am leading an initiative on employment advocacy which focuses on helping people who stutter manage communication either during job search or after getting the job.

We’re doing some exciting things like offering mock interviews, one-on-one consultations to discuss workplace stuttering and we’re sponsoring a series of webinars on stuttering more successfully at work.

A long-term vision of mine includes having an Employer Stuttering Network where employers would “sign on” with the NSA as “stutter friendly” workplaces. I have thought about this since before I officially took my current role on the NSA Board. I think it can happen, but people would need to be willing to acknowledge that they stutter and share where they work. People who stutter obviously make great employees.

I am going to follow-up with this person who emailed me and try to find a workplace or two in her area that won’t be “scared” to talk to someone who stutters.

Wish me luck!

 

 


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2021. 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 2021.
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