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Help for stutterers in the workplace

Most of us have probably experienced embarrassment when confronted with a person who stutters. We feel uncomfortable as the person struggles to pronounce words. To be honest, many of us are relieved we don’t have an affliction that calls attention to ourselves.

Jane Fraser is working to change that scenario.

As president of The Stuttering Foundation, Fraser is following in her father’s footsteps in creating awareness of the problem that impacts 1 percent of the world’s population — an estimated 3 million in the United States — by dispelling myths and helping to eliminate stereotypes.

Fraser’s father Malcolm, a lifelong stutter and cofounder of the Genuine Parts Co., which owns National Auto Parts Association, started the foundation in 1947. It is thriving today, helping people in 127 countries with educational material including self-therapy information and referrals to specialists.

In the business world, the foundation provides human resource departments and employee assistance programs with resources for employers and employees.

“We hear from employers who want to promote an employee, but they can’t unless he or she improves their speech,” Fraser says. “The good thing about an employer saying that is it does motivate people to get help and move ahead.”

There are techniques stutterers can employ to help improve their chronic communication issue.

“My dad had problems with ‘Fraser.’ He learned to ease into the word, take the F sound lightly and draw the word out,” she said.

Some of the myths Jane Fraser hopes to destroy?

“People who stutter are as intelligent and well-adjusted as non-stutterers,” she says. “It has nothing to do with being fearful or nervous.”

And the single most difficult speaking situation is probably the job interview, Fraser said.

The tactic to take for stutterers is being confident and upfront.

“If you can walk in and say to people, ‘I stutter sometimes and I bought this (brochure) to you to explain,’ that’s the best way,” she said. “Hiding the problem is the worst.”

The brochure is called “Stuttering: Answers for Employers,” and it’s a brief, to-the-point pamphlet that covers basic facts and a section on eliminating stereotypes and helpful strategies.

The foundation also promotes the latest research, including the discovery of three genes for stuttering written in the New England Journal of Medicine. This is the first study to pinpoint specific gene mutations as the potential cause of stuttering.

In reality, most stutterers are excellent employees, often very meticulous, detail-oriented, hardworking and good listeners, Fraser says.

“They want to prove themselves,” she said. “To show they are competent.”

I think of my husband who grew up stuttering but has since largely conquered the problem. Now when he pauses before speaking and has difficulty getting his first words spoken, it’s usually because he’s in a stressful situation.

He is so thankful for his speech teacher in school who helped him learn to deal with the issue. He still sends her Christmas cards and keeps in touch.

And he fits the description Fraser gives of a hard-working, dedicated employee who is a good listener.

Famous stutterers the foundation promotes to show that people in all walks of life can be successful include actor James Earl Jones, statesman Winston Churchill, singer Carly Simon and Vice President Joe Biden.

Stuttering awareness week is May 10-15. Take the time, whether you’re an employer or employee, to find out something new about stuttering. To download the brochure, go to www.stutteringhelp.org or call (800) 992-9392.

It could help you make a good business decision.

Jennifer Rich, Herald business editor, can be reached at (941) 475-7087.

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