National Stuttering Association

Ben ZuckerAirman

    Ben Zucker

    Hanover, Maryland
    United States Air Force

    Briefly describe your daily job duties.
    I work missions! I help tip off US and Allied forces to potential threats using my foreign language skills. While I can’t go too deeply into what I do, my work can be quite rewarding and I would recommend those who have a knack for foreign language and are seeking work to consider the Air Force language program. While the job can be stressful at times, it always feels good to know that my work is meaningful and can help save lives.

    As a person who stutters, share the most challenging part of your job.
    The most challenging part was definitely learning Russian from scratch. I was fine with the reading and writing, but speaking a foreign language with a stutter is legitimately challenging. A lot of the speech techniques that I learned in English didn’t really apply well to some of the sounds in Russian. In the end I was able to get through the speaking portion of the training, but I definitely sympathize with bilingual people who stutter and the challenge that that brings. Speaking is already hard enough for many of us, but speaking in a language that you’re not comfortable with adds a whole extra layer of difficulty.

    Did you self-disclose your stuttering during the job hiring process? If so, how did you do it and how do you currently disclose your stuttering to unsuspecting peers?
    Yes, and initially I was disqualified from the Armed Forces due to it. Luckily, the Air Force was in need of qualified linguists and I was able to file a waiver and get through. It was important that I worked extra hard though because I always felt that I was under a bit of extra scrutiny due to my condition.

    I also disclosed my stutter upon arriving to my first duty station during the introduction meeting, and my peers responded well to it. I regularly disclose and am happy to educate if others inquire about it. The main reason that I like disclosing is because I don’t want to give others the impression that I’m a nervous or uncertain person. Disclosing that I stutter allows me to control the framing of the issue, and in some sense exert a measure of ownership over it. It also helps sever the common association between stuttering and nervousness by presenting stuttering in a different light.

    Describe how stuttering makes you a better, more valued contributor at work.
    While I wouldn’t say that my stutter directly improves my job performance, I would say that it has helped me connect with people on some occasions and acts as an excellent filter. I feel that it has made me more empathetic to the struggles of others, and this trait has helped with interpersonal relationships and has certainly made me memorable. Even supervisors and co-workers from years ago often still remember me, and not too long ago I received an email from a supervisor who I had 5 years ago asking how I was doing. For better or for worse, stuttering makes it much more difficult to stay below the radar.

    What is your proudest moment at your current company?
    My proudest moment was graduating from my language training course. It was a difficult course, and one-third of my starting class did not graduate. The cost of failing the course would have meant that I either would have been separated from the Air Force or that I would have been assigned to whatever job the Air Force is in need of, which would have essentially placed my future out of my hands. Graduating was a huge accomplishment, and I was able to demonstrate to my teachers and peers that stuttering is no barrier to success.

    What are your long-term career aspirations?
    I’m currently applying to MBA programs and looking to concentrate in financial technology. I’m endlessly fascinated in the ways in which money and technology interact and transform the way that traditional financial services are done.

    What’s your best advice for people who stutter just entering the workplace and for those in a career striving to achieve greater success?
    I’ve found that it’s best to be upfront and open about it. Show your employer that stuttering is only a small part of you, and that you have many other skills that you bring to the table.

    People who stutter can make excellent employees, managers, and entrepreneurs by embracing their stutter as a part of them as opposed to constantly trying to hide it, often by staying silent.

    It’s very important that we don’t view every instance of stuttering as a failure. While we may not have full control of our speech, we are in control of our attitudes and how we evaluate and frame success. Plenty of employers will overlook a stutter, but a bad attitude is actually a much bigger burden.