Train your Chair

The article's author, Claire Tupling

If you stammer you can ask your boss to make 'reasonable adjustments' to make your job easier for you. Lecturer Dr. Claire Tupling tells us about the adjustments that helped her in meetings.  

I am a University lecturer. Not surprisingly, speaking is a major part of my job — teaching is very speech intensive. It's a particular kind of performance that requires paying attention to my speech for a considerable amount of time, and it is exhausting. 

Whilst teaching takes up a large part of the work I do, I have other responsibilities which also demand a great deal of oral communication, including tutorials, supervision of doctoral students, viva voce (oral exams), interviewing prospective students, and meetings, lots of meetings. Each one of these involves speaking tasks which present me with different challenges in relation to stammering.

Through seeking reasonable adjustments I am not seeking to absent myself from tasks involving speaking. Quite the opposite, I want to speak.

Stammering is often a disability under the Equality Act 2020, which means employers are obligated to make 'reasonable adjustments' for staff or job-seekers. As speech is so central to my job it is important to note that through seeking 'reasonable adjustments' I am not seeking to absent myself from tasks involving speaking. Quite the opposite, I want to speak. My stammer ranges from high levels of fluency to high levels of dysfluency and I need to be able to speak, whatever my level of dysfluency, to fulfil my responsibilities. 

Allowing me to do my job effectively

Identifying and negotiating reasonable adjustments for someone who stammers can be a challenge. It is fair to say that dysfluency is largely absent from disability inclusion agendas in Higher Education, and there aren't any 'off the peg reasonable adjustments to support someone who stammers. It can be difficult in these circumstances for managers to understand that stammering is a disability, how it affects communication, or how stammering is not 'bad' and something to be made better, it just 'is'. Therefore, I see 'reasonable adjustments' as a set of practices that facilitate me to do my job effectively, whether I stammer or not.

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For example, the telephone is an important tool for communication but one which I find challenging in an open office environment. To help me with this I have secured changes to my office environment so that I now work in a quieter space where I can manage phone and Skype calls more effectively.

Adjustments at meetings

After a particularly difficult event in my current job I worked with a speech and language therapist and now disclose my stammer to each new cohort of students I meet. This is an act of empowerment and shows the students that my stammer is nothing for them to worry about. 

However, in other areas of my job I have negotiated adjustments that require support from others and these have also enabled me to be more effective in my roles. For instance, I find meetings challenging to varying extents. A desire to contribute is often experienced alongside feelings that it would be easier for me not to, even though this would likely convey a negative impression of me. 

Unfortunately, in my current role I don't get the opportunity to chair meetings, but from previous experience I know the role of the Chair is important in promoting inclusivity and efficiency. Some University-wide meetings are formal with a rigid agenda and a raising of a hand is required to indicate to the Chair that you want to speak. I find these meetings more accessible than those where participants 'chip' in, without having to indicate to the Chair that they intend to. 

These have enabled me to contribute more in meetings, and achieve more job satisfaction by being able to demonstrate my effectiveness. 

For these meetings I needed an approach that enabled me to contribute without struggling to interject and I have worked with some Chairs on reasonable adjustments to ensure that I am able to contribute. The negotiated modifications to the way some meetings are conducted have been particularly beneficial.

Essentially, in advance of a meeting I prepare my contribution and then email the Chair a bullet point list of the items I want to speak about. In the meeting itself the Chair then invites me to contribute. This adjustment doesn't take away the impairment but by inviting me to contribute at a specific point, the Chair allocates me that moment in the meeting. It is a valuable moment where I experience less time pressure and so I am more able in this moment to use block modification techniques with less fear that someone sees the silence as an opportunity to interrupt. I may be fluent in these moments, and in these cases while it may appear that I don't need these adjustments, it actually demonstrates that they are working well. 

I have experienced some challenges since remote working necessitated us to meet online, but the recent addition of the 'hand up' facility on the platform we use has been helpful in this. 

Having an effective Chair

Importantly though, the success of this reasonable adjustment (although really this is good practice that could be applied in so many meetings to make them more efficient) rests on having an effective Chair who wants to include everyone with a contribution to make, but who also does this assertively and unobtrusively. 

Equally, it also rests on me preparing for the meeting and being clear about what I need to contribute. Together, these two elements have enabled me to contribute more in meetings, and achieve more job satisfaction by being able to demonstrate my effectiveness. 

For more information on getting changes to your job to make things easier, see our Reasonable Adjustments page. See also the stammeringlaw.org.uk website for a detailed look at the Equality Act, employment and reasonable adjustments. 

Have you secured reasonable adjustments in your job? We'd love to know about them. Email editor@stamma.org

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