18-year-old Stephanie Sonko-Garvey shares her fears about moving into the world of work as a person who stammers, and tells how awareness-raising videos have increased these concerns.
My ambitions have been somewhat motionless because of just one thing: my stammer. I have always wanted to be an interior designer, as I love creativity. However, I started to hesitate about this when I read online blogs by current interior designers on what life is like in the profession. What alerted me was when they mentioned that you need to be very outspoken to be an interior designer; you need to have confidence, be able to take charge, work under pressure and have good communication skills (not to mention the sleepless nights involved). I know every career involves stress, but for someone who stammers it can be difficult to handle.
Growing up, I hadn’t really accepted my stammer and still haven’t today. At times I would question why I couldn’t accept it; after all, I’m not the only one who stammers, but when thinking about my past experiences it begins to make sense. My stammer was noticeable at the age of three and that’s when I started having speech therapy. When I became a teenager and progressed into secondary school, the bullying started. Other pupils saw me as dopey and weird, even to the point where they didn’t want to hang out with me. This resulted in me having few friends and being mostly on my own. It definitely had an impact on my social life and because of such behaviour towards me, my self-esteem reduced.
Awareness at work
Now that I’m older, being sensitive of my speech has resulted in me starting to wonder about choosing specific career paths that don’t involve a lot of communication. This might sound daft because every job involves the use of communication, but if there is such a job where I can feel comfortable then it’s worth searching for.
Occasionally when I think about going into full-time employment I do worry because I know a few people who have had a hard time being accepted at work because of their stammer. I have watched many worst-case scenario videos on YouTube of people talking about their stammers, some revealing that they get turned down at job interviews or don’t get promoted because of it; this is obviously discrimination. Watching and hearing these has made me unwilling to want to progress in employment, as it is very upsetting and definitely lowers my confidence. It makes me feel like if you have a stammer other people at work are focusing on it and are not being broadminded about the skills that qualify you.
I wonder how all this makes a young person want to go into the world of employment and enjoy their working life.
In my opinion there isn’t much awareness of stammering in the workplace. People in employment who stammer may be under the everyday pressure of trying to hide their stammer and may feel like they are not able to jump at every opportunity. I watched a video called ‘Stuttering: trying to find a job’. Listening to the person, you can see how hurt he is. Whilst introducing his video he mentions how he finds it almost impossible to find employment. He said he had had five jobs since turning 18 and in every one of them someone made fun of his stammer. He had experienced six months of harassment and jokes and was constantly talked about. I feel very strongly about this, even to the point where I feel awareness of stammering needs to be broadcast on the news. It just hurts to see them almost in tears when they share their experiences of having a hard time at work because others won’t accept it and to know that others go through this too. I wonder how all this makes a young person want to go into the world of employment and enjoy their working life.
I am due to start university in September to study interior design, having left sixth-form college in May. I really enjoyed my time there and gradually became more confident and sociable thanks to some amazing friends and teachers. I am not going to abandon my ambitions of my dream job because all of my close friends and family are encouraging and can see the potential in me - such positive attitudes stimulates me to go for it. I would say that my past experiences have made me stronger in the sense that if I do come across such obstacles in life I know how to deal with them. On a day-to-day basis I am gradually learning to accept my stammer and build up my confidence when around others. I tell myself that if I hold on to my sorrows I will never see the bright side of life and that life is too short to be miserable. My message to those who have similar feelings about their stammer is: don’t let it put you down; you’re worth more than the way you speak.
BSA says: The world of work can be a daunting prospect for young people who stammer. Whilst some may have a negative experience in the workplace, this is certainly not the case for everyone, and most have happy and fulfilling careers. See our resources on stammering and employment for advice on finding a job and coping at work. As Stephanie rightly says, more needs to be done to raise awareness in the workplace and with the Employers Stammering Network, BSA is striving to achieve this. For more information, go to www.stammering.org/esn.
From Speaking Out Summer/Autumn 2014