The Real World of Jobs

by Karen Lewis (Ohio, USA), Gunars Neiders (Washington, USA), Lee Reeves (Texas, USA), Louis Roden, (Georgia, USA), David Steiner (New York, USA), and Ann Van Der Berg, (South Africa)

Perhaps you have seen the posters and long lists of famous and people who stutter. Those lists are helpful for finding "heroes," but the real role models and heroes for kids and teens who stutter are adults who stutter working in the "real world."

The following short papers tell of the path several people who stutter took in attaining their career goals. They are willing to answer specific or general questions from adults and children about their journeys.

  • Karen Lewis - Registered Nurse, Ohio
  • Gunars Neiders - systems engineer/computer programmer at the Boeing Company and a registered counselor, Washington.
  • Lee Reeves - Veterinarian, Texas
  • Louis Roden - Executive Vice President of Human Resources for, Georgia
  • David M. Steiner, lawyer, Assistant Corporation Counsel with the New York City Law Department.
  • Ann Van Der Berg, sales and marketing, South Africa

STUTTERING NURSE: Don't Be Cheated Out of the Career of Your Choice Just Because You Stutter

by Karen Lewis

From as young as I can remember I wanted to become a nurse. Hospitals fascinated me. The toy nurse kits I received and used completely seem without number. I practiced on my dolls. I practiced on patient relatives. It was what I wanted to do, what I always knew I would do. Although throughout high school I believed people thought I was mentally retarded because of my speech, I held strongly to the intention of becoming an R.N. Besides the fact I was so certain this was what I wanted to do, I also was more determined than ever, for if I could get through nursing school, no one could think I was mentally retarded.

It didn't occur to me until the 11th grade when my school counselor began to direct us toward applying for higher education that this might be a problem. I applied as he indicated to 3 different schools at the beginning of my Senior year. I was now not so naive and was terrified I wouldn't be accepted largely because it was difficult to get into nursing school back then. As I submitted my applications and took the National League for Nursing pre-entrance test, I still was counting on those who would determine my acceptance or rejection to not know I stuttered until after I was already in school. I believed if I could just make it in, that was something I would have to deal with then, and of course, I would do as much hiding as I could.

However, in my interview at the first school I received notification I was accepted at, the Director of Nursing Education told me my school counselor had put on the report sent from the school that I stuttered. I could feel my face turn bright red. I wanted the floor to swallow me up. I had in those years become totally locked up about it, talking to no one about it. But, she went on to tell me that wouldn't be a problem.

I was accepted by all 3 schools, and went to the one of my choice. My stuttering was never made an issue of except that on every "evaluation" my low area was, "Does not communicate with patients or instructors." So terrified of failing out, I forced myself to talk to my instructors. I did with my patients, but my instructors did not realize that. My Senior year my evaluations began to read, "Communicates well with instructors and patients."

After graduation I was immediately placed as charge nurse on a heart unit, including heart surgery. I was the only R.N. for 30 patients. During my career I will admit it has been difficult. Nursing is not a career where one can be silent. Messages must be conveyed all the time, the telephone used much. It has been rare for my speech to be referred to, and when it was, it was usually with kindness. Occasionally a patient would make a kind comment, usually intended to be helpful. There have been times when co-workers had a little joke with it, usual comments, mimicking, but I have to say only with rare exception, have been friendly, well-intended. I also learned quickly my patients and their families weren't all that concerned usually with my speech. They were concerned that they receive qualified care.

In no way has it been "easy street." I learned before entering nursing school it was not hidden. The usual situations which PWS face, the fears, the anxiety of speaking, the "extra" difficult tasks which had to be done such as demonstrating to a room of new mothers how to bathe a newborn infant was so terrifying that only the knowledge that it must be done to get through school propelled me to do that.

Today, I continue to find patients and co-workers understanding.

My message to young people who stutter is don't let your stuttering alone shape your career choice, even if it involves much talking. There are many people who stutter in successful careers where speaking is an important part of the job. Pursue your dreams! I would like to add there was a student 2 years behind me in school. She stuttered much worse than I did and used extremely obvious secondaries. An example was that in trying to communicate a message to the charge nurse, she stuttered severely all the way through the message, using a secondary common to her - turning her entire body around with her back to the listener. But, she made it through nursing school and became a very efficient nurse. A PWS can become a successful R.N.

Work Environment and Stuttering: Advice From a Veteran of the High Tech Industry

by Gunars K. Neiders

I have worked at Boeing as a Software Engineer on many state of art software projects which included: Apollo moon shot, Strategic Defense Initiative (commonly known as President Reagan's STAR WARS :-) ), smart bombs (which were used in the Operation Desert Storm), various terrain following missiles, People Mover (deployed in Morgantown, West Virginia), game theory to support strategic allocation of weapons to various targets, as well as having meddled in Artificial (computer) Intelligence, Pattern Recognition (now being used by U.S. Post Office), and, other systems analysis, design, and programming tasks. In the past two decades I have been consistently rated to be in the top 10% of the software engineers at the Boeing Company - stuttering and all. :-)

My experiences could fill a whole book :-), but Judy Kuster helped me come to my senses :-) and understand that I cannot tell what you all you might like to know. Possible questions might be: Are people in the high tech area prejudiced against those of us who stutter? How does one handle a presentation if you are a person who stutters? What should you write on a resume with respect to stuttering? What strategy should you take in an interview? If any of these things interest you, go ahead and ask!

I would like to say that I do not think that stuttering has kept me from advancing in my career. You might ask me why didn't I become a manager or even head of the company. I believe I lacked sufficient ambition, ruthlessness, and, as a young man, political skills, to claw my way up the corporate ladder. Did stuttering play an important role? I think not: Jack Welch, CEO and the Chairman of Board of GE (and considered to be one of the best managers of the last century) stuttered and still does.

So my advice to anyone is to follow your heart. Find something that really, really fascinates you and work on achieving it. Visualize what you want to be and make plans how to get there and ask others how they arrived where they are. Don't let stuttering intimidate you, but, do not ignore it either: Ask us on the panel how to handle specific situations and be open to our suggestions. But, before blindly following our suggestions, see if they make sense to you.

Finally, try to get the best stuttering therapy you can afford. The stuttering therapy should consist of both changing your attitude toward stuttering and yourself (as a person who stutters) and learning skills to stutter more easily. It is much easier to achieve your goals if you stutter without significant struggling, anxiety, self-downing, guilt or shame. If your stuttering therapist is not skilled in helping you deal with your speech anxiety, shame, or guilt about stuttering or she cannot talk you into accepting yourself fully, whether you stutter or not, it is time to search out a psychologist who practices cognitive psychology (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Gestalt, etc.) to augment your speech therapy.


by Lee Reeves, DVM

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" I remember being asked this question very early in my life. " I want to be a v-v-v-vvv-------animal doctor!" I would say with pride. Sometimes I would just point to my dad and state that I wanted to be what he is.... a veterinarian. At the age of five the choice to become a veterinarian was perhaps the earliest and easiest of my life. It didn't seem to matter at that age that stuttering or anything else would be an obstacle on my journey through life. Nor did it seem to matter by the time I was nine and began to realize that my struggle with speaking was amusing to the other kids and was beginning to be of real concern to my parents and teachers. By the time I reached the age of sixteen my stuttering had become a source of personal frustration and embarrassment. However, it still did not deter me from my dream as I walked timidly into Coolridge Animal Hospital and struggled horribly with my name while asking for a job.

No, it wasn't until I sat before a selection committee of six distinguished professors at the Texas A & M College of Veterinary Medicine. In those moments I was unable to utter more than one or two words without significant and excruciating stuttering. It was THEN that I knew stuttering WAS going to be a major obstacle in realizing the first choice of my life..... to become a veterinarian.

This cold fact led to the next major decision that was necessary in my journey. What was I going to do about my stuttering ? It was not a choice I relished having to make. After all up until that point stuttering wasn't really my problem. It was everyone else's and they had failed . My parents had failed to recognize or act on it soon enough, none of the many speech therapists I had in school were able to make it go away, and no brainy scientist had come up with a cure. Poor me. It was during this time that I made the choice to do whatever was necessary to overcome or manage my stuttering. In reality, what was necessary was hard work. Not only was it difficult, it was humiliating, embarrassing, tedious, exhausting, frustrating... and life changing. I chose to stop being a victim and to take ownership of MY stuttering.

If the choice to pursue a career in veterinary medicine was the easiest and the choice to take ownership and work hard on my stuttering was the hardest then the choice to actively participate in life was the most natural. I use the phrase "participate in life " rather than " give back to..." for one very simple reason. To " give back" implies repayment for a debt. There is simply no way to give back to my parents the life that they gave me, or to repay Dr. Malnati for believing in me even though I stuttered, or to retire the debt to my high school speech therapist, Mrs. Claussen , for introducing me to the concept of self-help. I don't believe that these were debts that need to be repaid . Rather , I believe that they were gifts from people who never expected repayment.

We are all provided with gifts in life and opportunities throughout life. It is what we CHOOSE to do with these opportunities that shape our journey. Today when someone asks, " What do you do?" I want to reply, " I practice veterinary medicine, I stutter, and I try to help others by participating in life ! ".

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" It's all about choices.

Human Resources Career

by Louis Roden

If any young person is interested in a career that includes, and requires, the skills of a teacher, a counselor, and diplomat, combined with those of a businessperson, then Human Resources is an excellent road to follow!

I am a stutter, and also an HR executive. My career path has been exciting, apprehensive, fulfilling, and at times, even scary!

After college, I began to work as a retail manager with a small but well-known formalwear chain in Ohio. I came to know the "tux business" well. The owner one day asked if I could develop a training program to standardize the procedures throughout the chain. I gladly accepted the challenge, despite the fact that I had little awareness of training program design. I studied Political Science in school!

Nevertheless, a little research took me a long way, and the owner liked the program and asked me to train it full time. That is when I began my career in Human Resources, although I didn't realize it at the time!

Clearly, my stuttering was often a challenge, but I was able to get through many presentations. An important factor in this was the fact that the program was my design and content - I was very comfortable with it, which eased my anxiety a great deal. As well, most of my co-workers were aware of my stutter, and were very understanding. I think I may have been unlikely to pursue my HR career at this point if I did not have such encouraging surroundings!

I eventually moved on to a major global retailer (Toys R Us) as an assistant HR manager. In this environment, I was doing a more diverse HR job, including recruiting, training, benefit administration, and employee counseling. This is where my career and knowledge truly blossomed. I learned everything I could, whenever I could. Not just about HR, but also about the general business I was in! Still today, I find this critical - look outside of your own "box" and understand the business around you! It impacts your insight, as well as your credibility!

I was able to present many training classes at Toys R Us relating to diversity, along with understanding people with disabilities. I discussed my personal experiences as a stutterer in these classes, and trainees, when comfortable, shared various hurdles they had faced, whether it was from a disability, ethnicity, color, or other barrier. The theme, as always, was simple. We are all different; we all manage in different ways. As far as speech was concerned, we discussed how some people spoke with an accent, or other language barriers; some had speech problems, like me; the point remained that there was always a way to communicate, and understand.

I left retailing after several years, and helped start a global transportation company. Again, my HR duties were varied, and I was now interacting with people from all over the world. I rose to the level of VP or Human Resources for this company, first for North America, and then for the global organization. While traveling, I had the occasion to meet a gentleman in Gatwick airport in UK that was a stutterer. We got along very well, and shared stories - some sad, some funny, but all of them familiar - and the obstacles we faced, and overcame everyday, regarding our speech. He and I had a great deal in common, despite that he was a great deal older than I - namely, we no longer feared our stutter.

With an interest in the growth of technology and the rise of the "" industry, I moved on and joined as their EVP of Human Resources and Administration. Again, I am learning a new business, with new people, and a new set of challenges. Every day, I need to communicate in a myriad of ways, and again, I have had to introduce a new group of people to someone who "doesn't look handicapped," yet is in a way they do not fully understand.

I asked a blind veteran, who had lost his sight in the Korean War, if he feared "not seeing". He said no. The only thing he feared, he said, is the ignorance of others regarding his blindness. I no longer fear speaking, and I will always fear the ignorance of others. Stutterers have an extra burden, as most people would never dream of teasing a blind person, but seem to think it is acceptable to say something insensitive and cruel to those with speech barriers. Nevertheless, fear accomplishes nothing. Do not stay silent and study your pain, but communicate! As people learn about you - your hopes, and dreams, and ideas - they will no longer know you as "Lou, the guy that stutters," they'll simply know you as you, and begin to forget why they ever saw you differently.


by David M. Steiner

Last May I addressed a class on stuttering at Hunter College in New York City taught by Dorothy Ross, Ph.D. After speaking for about 25 minutes, I threw open the session to Q&A. One of the student SLP's asked why in the world did I choose the law as my profession if I stutter. To truly answer her question would have taken at least another 25 minutes. One of the skills we learn in Toastmasters, however, is how to make a long story short. In this case, very short. I said that all of us who have chosen to do anything in our lives, and that is all of us, did it for exactly the same reason: It seemed like a good idea at the time. Fortunately, in my case, a career in the law has turned out to be richly rewarding.

For the past five years I have held the title of Assistant Corporation Counsel in the New York City Law Department, where I was recently promoted to Associate Counsel. The Law Department, also known as the Office of the Corporation Counsel, is New York City's office of trial attorneys. We defend the City when it is sued, and argue for the City when it sues others. Of course, we cannot offer the big salaries that private firms pay, but other incentives exist. Our lawyers frequently win public interest awards from bar associations, and the work is always interesting. We recruit from law schools and public interest job fairs.

I, however, did not come to the Law Department in the usual way, but via a circuitous route. My college career, though fun, lacked direction. While an undergraduate at Columbia University in New York City, I could not decide upon a major until my junior year, when I decided that I had a knack for Philosophy. As I saw graduation approaching, I had no idea what to do with myself. I decided to apply for Naval Officer Candidate School, to which I was initially accepted. On the day that I was to be sworn in, however, I was told to fill out a set of forms, one of which asked if I had ever had any kind of therapy. I said that I had had speech therapy, at which point my swearing in was postponed and my application ultimately rejected. The Department of the Navy later wrote me saying that there was no waiver for stuttering.

I ended up applying to the Peace Corps and, having learned my lesson, never mentioned my stutter during the application process. The Peace Corps assigned me to teach English in the West African country of Niger for two years. I then returned home and entered a masters program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Unfortunately, my speech had degenerated significantly during my Peace Corps years, and my job interviews while I was at Fletcher went poorly. My inability to find a job was my primary motivation in going to Cornell Law School.

Initially, law school was a scary experience, to which I eventually habituated myself. When it came time to look for a job again, however, I had no more luck. I stuttered badly in my interviews and found myself jobless after graduation. I returned to another masters program at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, which I had actually started years earlier. My interviews there went no better and the job placement office banned me from further interviewing, telling me that I was hurting the school's reputation.

I never gave up, however, and eventually landed a volunteer job in the chambers of a federal judge in New York City, John Walker, cousin of George Bush. With that under my belt, I got a job offer from Judge Jane Restani on the U.S. Court of International Trade. During the interview, she asked me if I stuttered, my unconditional affirmative answer apparently impressed her. I then got a job with Judge Reynaldo Garza on the Federal Court of Appeals.

My work with the federal judiciary was followed by a period of joblessness during which I got a masters in tax law at New York University in order to get more interviews. Once again, I graduated jobless but eventually I got employment at a small firm through a friend from the Fletcher School, and then another friend got me a job at the New York City Law Department.

During my job hunting ordeal, I received speech therapy and became very involved with Toastmasters and am now president of my chapter. The Law Department has placed great faith in my ability to try cases and my speech has greatly improved. Perhaps the most important factor in my coming to terms with stuttering is my self-actualization as a stutterer. Joining the stuttering lists, going to NSA and Speakeasy conventions, and recently going to the Third World Conference of the International Fluency Association have all helped to embrace a condition from which I used to run. While I am not one of those who claim to love their stutter, I fully acknowledge its presence. As those in the NSA who know me can attest, I now love giving speeches and relish any opportunity to reach a podium. Facing one's problems head on is a liberating experience. When things go wrong, do not despair, the only thing regrettable about mistakes is the failure to learn from them. Remember, good judgment comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

A normal person with no fancy degrees but who has conquered the embarrassment of stuttering.

by Ann Van Der Berg

Hi there! I'm Ann.

I have no idea when I started to stutter but it has been forever.

I became a Sales Representative at the age of 19. I got the job and I have now been in Sales and Marketing for 19 years. When I really used to get scared was when we went away for a Conference. We always had to give a speech. I would typically stutter the first couple of minutes. I then realised that everyone was actually listening to what I was saying, not how I was saying it, which gave me confidence in myself to carry on speaking.

My first Sales Representative job taught me a lot. It gave me even more courage than I had. In this position I had to deal with everyone from the Caretaker of an Office Block to the MD of a Company to Doctors etc. My second Sales position was a disaster. I was to sell telephone answering machines, calculators and photo copier machines, I wasn't taught any product knowledge and we were not given the time of day to play with them ourselves to try and work out how they functioned. The job entailed 99% cold calling, about something that you don't have a clue what you are talking about. I stayed there for 9 months and gave it up as a bad job and learned nothing.

My third Sales position was a dream come true working for Nampak Tissue (in competition with Kleenex) and was there for 16 years. Well I went from strength to strength there. I was sent to 15 Sales Courses which are huge confidence builders. I ran the small branch that we had in Port Elizabeth for the last 2 years. The company then decided to go out to agency in 1998. This suited me fine as I was now 36 years old and was pregnant with my second child. So needless to say I stayed at home with baby shoes for 16 months.

After 16 months I felt it was long enough to be at home and yearned for the business world again. I have now started a little business of my own in Marketing and a friend of mine has contracted me to help him to market two of his Agencies. One in selling corrugated boxes which involves working with specifications and the other is jams and fruit in Tins to sell to the catering industry. Now I deal with mostly Production Managers and then Buyers. Both Companies have never been in Port Elizabeth before, they are both from Cape Town, so this is a whole new launch for me. So far so good, after three months. Wow it is great to be back in the real world again.

I am married with two children, a boy age 9 and a baby girl age 19 months. None of them stutter. They all love me and don't care if I stutter. I am not abnormal because I stutter and yes I am like you I do dream of speaking fluently but Hey I have a life and only one at that so I am going to live it.


I am half Irish and I am teased about that! I am now teaching my son how to handle being teased -- he thinks he is a bit overweight. He is my pork chop and I am his double decker hamburger. Learn to laugh at yourself, it sure helps.