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According to the Stuttering Foundation of America (SFA), over three million people in the United States stutter. Males are affected by stuttering four times more than females. When someone stutters the flow of speech can be interrupted by repetitions, prolongations, or periods where no sound is produced during the person’s effort to communicate. The person may also exhibit unusual facial and body movements while trying to speak.
There is no single cause of stuttering but current research is focusing on neurological causes. Stuttering is not caused by an emotional or nervous disorder. Some individuals who stutter can benefit from stuttering therapy and the use of fluency aids. The National Stuttering Association (NSA) indicates that adults who stutter may benefit from stuttering therapy to help their speech but that on-going maintenance may be needed to manage continued fluency.
An article written by William D. Parry, Chair of the NSA Advocacy Committee, states “Of the many obstacles faced by people who stutter perhaps the most devastating is discrimination in employment and educational opportunities.” Parry also notes that people who stutter are subject to negative stereotypes that prevent them from obtaining employment and promotional opportunities. According to Parry, common stereotypes include, “the widely accepted impression that stutterers are nervous, shy, quiet, self-conscious, withdrawn, tense, anxious, fearful, reticent, and guarded.”
Individuals who stutter can be highly qualified and capable workers if provided the chance to get their foot in the door. People who stutter are encouraged to talk about their stuttering with their employers to dispel stereotypes. Information about workplace accommodations may also be helpful.
Application and Interview-Information for the Employer:
- Be patient and listen
- Do not complete words or sentences for the individual
- Maintain conversational eye contact and focus on the content of communication rather than the delivery of the communication
- Relax and communicate as you would normally
- Provide interview questions in advance if possible to allow the individual time to prepare and deliver responses effectively
- Consider offering a personal interview as an alternative to a phone interview
- Become knowledgeable about stuttering
Application and Interview-Information for the Individual:
- Talk with the employer about stuttering and how it may impact job performance and provide suggestions for accommodations that may alleviate performance concerns (organizations such as the SFA and the NSA suggest that people who stutter should be open about their speaking abilities)
- Provide an informative cover letter and resume or vita to be used as marketing tools; market yourself and sell your abilities
- Be prepared for the interview by researching typical interview questions, preparing answers, and rehearsing prior to interview
- Request a personal interview if a telephone interview is scheduled but a personal interview would be more effective
- Plan in advance to use techniques and strategies that you have learned in speech therapy or support groups and that you find helpful in managing stuttering
On the Job:
- Talk with co-workers and clients about stuttering to educate them and ease their anxiety about communicating
- Use techniques and strategies that you have learned in speech therapy or support groups and that you find helpful in managing stuttering
- Try the following if using the telephone is difficult:
- When making calls, be prepared; know what needs to be said before dialing and write the main points down; use a script when applicable
- Rehearse the call with someone else
- Do not procrastinate; procrastination will only prolong anxiety and make the situation more stressful
- Answer telephone calls when ready and focus on the call, not on distractions around you
- Be prepared with easy ways to answer the telephone: “Hello this is Jim,” “Mary speaking,” “Good morning/afternoon,” etc.
- Practice using the telephone as often as possible
- Be prepared and be concise when speaking in public and get right to the point
- Use electronic communication options such as e-mail and instant messaging
- Use fluency aids if effective and seek out therapy options
- Be confident (SFA states that “Fluent speech breeds confidence, and confidence breeds fluent speech”)
Stuttering and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a definitive list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more "major life activities," (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Stuttering
People who stutter may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people who stutter will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
The following situations and solutions are real-life examples of accommodations that were made by JAN customers. Because accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis, these examples may not be effective for every workplace but give you an idea about the types of accommodations that are possible.
A professor with stuttering experienced an exacerbation of his condition and needed to start attending speech therapy on a weekly basis to manage his symptoms.
He asked that his course schedule be modified, so that he could change one of his courses to an online format, and have his other classes and office hours scheduled around his therapy sessions for the duration on the next semester. The employee modified the professor’s teaching schedule.
A computer programmer with stuttering found communication by telephone to be particularly difficult.
He asked that when face-to-face interactions were not possible, his supervisor utilize e-mail and instant messaging instead of the telephone and that he also be allowed to use these methods of communication with his coworkers. The employer agreed.
A new hire at a call center had a history of stuttering.
He experienced an exacerbation of his symptoms during the first few weeks on the job. He had previously found delayed auditory feedback systems to be helpful in managing his stuttering. He requested that his employer purchase a delayed auditory feedback device and headset that would be compatible with the calls center’s phone system.
A new hire with stuttering became concerned when he realized that he would have to lead a presentation after a few months on the job.
He requested a modified schedule so that he could meet with a speech language pathologist to address the issue in speech therapy, the employer provided a modified schedule.
A user support specialist with stuttering used the TTY relay service as a backup means of communication at times when she found it difficult to speak on the telephone.
She became concerned about the confidentiality of this communication method and called JAN. A JAN consultant explained the FCC's confidentiality requirements for relay service providers, suggested that she contact the FCC directly for additional information, and discussed speech generating devices for use with the telephone as a potential alternative.
A prospective employer contacted an applicant to let her know that she had been selected to move on to the next stage of the application process which involved an interview by telephone.
The applicant disclosed that she was a person with stuttering and asked if it would be possible to do the interview face-to-face. The employer did not feel able to offer an in person interview, but offered the alternatives of an interview via video chat or via instant messaging.
JAN Publications & Articles Regarding Stuttering
Consultants' Corner Articles
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