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The National Stuttering Association hosted an NSA Connects session on March 25 for Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) who Stutter. The conversation was led by Tiffani Kittilstved, Hayden Lambert, Kristel Kubart, and Matt Maxion and the topic discussed was “Ableism in the Field of Speech Language Pathology.”

Generally speaking, ‘ableism’ is defined as discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities. Abelism exists in many forms even in the speech language pathology career field, a profession that prides itself in assisting those with disorders that affect language, social skills, cognition, etc.

The SLP profession is supposed to be anti-ableism. However, as discussed in this NSA Connects session, several SLPs who stutter have experienced ableism not only from clients or parents of clients, but also from their colleagues due to the fact that they stutter.

Much of the session was spent in breakout groups discussing times where participants have experienced ableism as SLPs who stutter and what can be done about it. During this discussion on ableism, several SLPs mentioned negative interactions they had during their time in their undergraduate and graduate programs with professors who attempted to guide them away from this career path.

Others described times when clients or clients’ caregivers questioned their ability to effectively provide speech therapy or stopped receiving services from them all together due to their speech.

The topic of internalized ableism, one’s own ableist thoughts towards oneself, was also discussed. This includes the desire to be fluent and trying to avoid stuttering and the affect this has on the lives of people who stutter. As a participant perfectly stated, “our perceptions of stuttering are representative of our own internal ableism”.

The second half of the session was spent discussing ways to combat ableism in the field of speech language pathology, as well as in everyday life. Some common themes mentioned during the discussion was the importance of showing how people who stutter are capable of effective communication in professional and social settings. SLPs who stutter can provide effective speech therapy as evidence by there being many successful SLPs who stutter. Also discussed was how SLPs who stutter may have a better connection with clients because of their own experiences with a communication disorder.

As with anything that is viewed as “different” or “disabling” compared to societal norms, people who stutter can educate others about stuttering in order to spread awareness and change the narrative to be a more positive and accepting one.

One group came up with a list of ways to amplify stuttered voices, that list is below.

There may be push back from people who do not want to change their views and accept stuttering, and we cannot force them to. A phrase mentioned in the session that sums up this sentiment is to “accept the unacceptance” and keep moving forward.

Ways to Amplify Stuttered Voices

  • Discuss ableism in classroom and professional settings
  • Reframe how speech therapists think about disorders/disabilities in terms of the medical model of disability versus the social model
  • Celebrate and promote diversity of the speech-language pathology field and be more open-minded, culturally aware, and humble
  • Be less of a prescriptivist and embrace the variety with how people use language and speak words
  • Educate people during moments of microaggressions, when you have the emotional capacity to do it
  • Change your language: use ‘different’ versus ‘wrong’ or ‘correct’
  • Promote the power of allyship, which is all about building relationships and connections with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people

Watch as SLPs who stutter discuss their personal experiences with abelism from this NSA Connects session and how they’ve addressed ableism throughout their careers.

This NSA Connects was recorded on March 25, 2021, and is part of a series of free sessions – https://westutter.org/nsaconnects/​​​.

Author Kate Church is originally from Louisville, KY and is currently attending graduate school at Western Kentucky University to become a speech language pathologist. Kate is involved with the Bowling Green, KY NSA Chapter and volunteers her time as an NSA Ntern.

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