Guess what?! I fulfilled my comedy dream of being bleeped on NPR! Please take a listen to see if comedy can educate! I was featured with others from the Comedians with Disabilities Act (our album is on sale!!). And, Howard Stern, I am still waiting for your call!
As a stand up comedian and Disability educator, I aim to make the world more aware of aspects of the disability experience. As a person who stutters, who loves her community, I make a special point to share my experience and educate people about stuttering and stuttering etiquette. In everything I do, I hope to go beyond stuttering awareness to place where we can celebrate our community and have a more inclusive world where we are able to be more integrated in our identities as people who stutter and however else we identify (culture, talents, hobbies, etc…). We just aren’t our speech, but I personally don’t want people to overlook my experiences as a Stutterer because those experiences are an important part of what has created me.
Sometimes I get a little stuck on how I want to raise awareness. I am just one individual, so how will I make an impact in raising awareness in my personal and professional lives, not to mention the world? I have some ideas that I wanted to share with you. And in no particular order….
Ain’t No Party Like A Stuttering Party
You know what? People don’t equate stuttering or disability with fun! I know, I don’t get it either. Whenever I am around people who share my experiences I have hella fun. I feel like I am at home. People without disabilities or who don’t stutter can’t even imagine us getting together and partying. Why not get together with your local stuttering community and go out to eat, picnic, sing karaoke, go out dancing, or whatever would be fun. Make it an open invitation so people can meet up (you can even use meetup.com to do outreach), meet each other and find a community where they can not only share their gripes about stuttering in a fluent world, but also share their joys, successes and laughter. Making space for us to have fun is so important and is a great bonding experience. If you want to wear matching shirts or stuttering awareness sashes, that is great, but just getting together is a big deal for us.
As an Italian-American, I tend to overdo it with the food, so I think I have some expertise in this area. My plan is to bring stuttering awareness cupcakes to my office to share this year. They will eat sea-green colored cupcakes but also get information about how to talk to a person who stutters. There is plenty of information online about stuttering (just make sure it is the good stuff—please don’t send them that BS of Tony Robbins curing a person who stutters in 7 minutes because he was traumatized by Rocky and Bulwrinkle–no joke! There is a lot of information about stuttering. There are many organizations that produce materials such as the National Stuttering Association (NSA), Friends who Stutter, and Say. Both organizations stress self-acceptance, community, and treatment options for people who stutter. Not everyone is looking to be fluent and it is important for people outside of our community to know that we don’t need to be fixed. Why not provide this type of information with decorated cookies or cupcakes?!
Whatever you do, remember to provide resources to people you outreach too. You might want to make a list of your top ten links, organizations, or videos. Sometimes people are too shy to ask questions so providing resources can help them to find information on their own and digest it in their own time. There are also some great podcasts like Women Who Stutter: Our Stories, Stutter Talk and Stuttering is Cool that you can promote as resources where real life experiences are explored. Also, there are wonderful communities that can be found online. One of my favorites is Stutter Social where you can communicate with people who stutter from all around the world in real time. Because it is a Google Circle, you are able to see and hear people and is open to everyone.
There are large and small ways to fundraise or donate. The most obvious is to just do it. Send money to your favorite stuttering organization. Many of us can’t afford to do this, but we might be able to organize an event to raise money. There are some amazing organizations that help individuals who stutter to find their identity and advocate against discrimination. Find out what stuttering organizations fit your own passions. Besides raising money, your personal campaign funding is also raising awareness too because you are profiling an organization that you are passionate about.
Extra-Extra: Stutter all about it!
Did you know that radio stations NEED to do public service announcements (PSAs) as part of their community outreach? Why not one about stuttering? I found the National Stuttering Association when I was a teenager because of a late night PSA and it changed my life. Why not network to see how you can bring stuttering to a bigger audience? Contacting your local news outlets is another great way to get the word out. National Stuttering Awareness week is a great hook for a news outlet to cover.
Social media is a blog entry in and of itself! Lots of great activism goes on in social media. Between tweeting, facebooking, blogging/vlogging, pinning and whatever else Silicon Valley has introduced this week, there is a ton of stuff that you can do to raise awareness and celebrate the Stuttering community. Here are a few ideas.
For my purposes, I am talking about the little pictures that you can post to your social media. Memes have a more broad definition, but let’s stick to the images for now. Memes are a great way to give a visual image to a sound bite that you want to convey. You can create your own to share or you can re-share others. I have some of the ones that I have created at, please feel free to steal them: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.918396334847879.1073741833.123746114312909&type=1
Whether you create your own or share other’s, you might want to include a message about what the meme means to you and why you are sharing it. We don’t always get to share our experience of stuttering, so saying a bit about it’s significance in your life will help to educate others.
One of my biggest pet peeves, whether we are talking about entertainment or the academic/research realms, is that we, as people who stutter, have often had our voices blunted by the dominant/fluent perspective. Traditionally, we have not had control over our images in the media or elsewhere. The Disability community has adopted the slogan, “nothing about us without us” meaning that we should have say over all aspects of our Disability experience. For the first time in our history, we have a direct line for representing who we are. Why not share your experiences to the world? Of course you should consider what you are sharing and take precautions. If you are a young person, check with your family and friends to see if what you are thinking is a good idea and if you are prepared for any backlash. Just assume that someone will have a problem with what you are saying, but also know that if you speak from a place that is authentic and true to yourself, you will touch people. Other videos, like skits or slide shows, can also contribute to the library of images and diversity of content about stuttering.
One of my favorite videos I have worked on was with Gina Davis.
Sometimes you just can’t get around to creating a video or a blog but you might want to share other videos/blogs that represent your views. There is a lot of great stuff out there and losing yourself in a search can produce some great opportunities to educate people on your Twitter feed and Facebook. When sharing, do take into consideration that over saturating your Facebook feed can water down your message. People get overwhelmed. It might be better for you to post twice a day over the week instead of all at once. Marketing research says that the peak time for Facebook is 11AM. Apparently you are all sneaking it at work! Thinking strategically can make the most out of your own personal awareness campaign. Also, instead of just posting videos, include comments or questions so that people interact with the video. It might start some great conversations on your feed!
People you admire who also happen to stutter
If I see another meme or article about Tiger Woods overcoming his stuttering, I am going to hurl! So many of the images of people who stutter are people who don’t stutter openly. Look beyond the awareness posters and images of “people who overcame” and look toward the athletes, professors, reporters, podcast hosts, authors and people YOU identify with. Post these pictures and bios to your social media outlets and let people know why they are important to you.
The following is a list of some of the stuttering awareness material I have produced over the years. Please include additional links in the comments section. I hope something touches you and motivates you to tell others about stuttering:
I am donating 75% of the proceeds from the new Comedians with Disabilities Act and Friends album (when purchased through CD Baby) and my children’s book, Once Upon an Accommodation, to the National Stuttering Association during National Stuttering Awareness week (starts May 11) This is to thank the Stuttering community for what I have received from them.
In honor of National Stuttering Awareness week I wanted to share my personal experience about how the Stuttering community has impacted me. I discovered the National Stuttering Association (NSA), then the National Stuttering Project (NSP), thanks to a PSA one night when I was watching late night TV while I was still in high school. I called NSP (there was no internet back then), and soon became a volunteer. I would fold their newsletter, Letting Go, and even volunteered at a conference in San Francisco. Before finding NSP I thought that a stutterer had to strive for fluency. At the time my dream was to teach grammar school and I thought that to be a teacher you would have to achieve complete and utter fluency. While volunteering I met John Ahlbach who was a high school teacher who stuttered. Meeting him completely demolished the stereotypes I had developed about myself and about the need to be fluent.
More importantly, finding the NSP had an impact on my self-perception as well. Stuttering and having a learning disability, I didn’t always feel comfortable in school. I would do things that I thought increased fluency or camouflaged my stuttering and learning disability. I thought t was better to be seen by others as weird instead of disabled. This was pretty easy for me because I was naturally kind of weird, but this was a more inauthentic weird. I felt that if I acted obnoxious at school that this would hide my stuttering. Once I found the NSP I calmed down. I was able to step into a more authentic version of myself.
When I was in high school, we would get board in class and look through each other’s wallets. I use to carry my NSP membership card (like I would ever need to prove I was a member or a person who stutters!). Once a peer going through my wallet asked what it was and I told him, “that’s my license to stutter.” I never realized this until right now, but it was totally true. It was completely my license to stutter because I felt like I could be more open and that I could accept my divergent speech and not feel like there was anything wrong with me. I believe that was the same English class where the guy who sat in front of me made fun of my stuttering and my best friend’s boyfriend and the football team paid him a visit and scared him into apologizing. Luckily there was a fellow stutterer on the team so they were sympathetic and always liked the opportunity to intimidate off the field.
After high school I went to college. I didn’t become a third grade teacher, in part because my Learning Disability got in the way. The same things that gave me difficulty when I first started to read, continued to give me difficulties when I was an adult. Blending words, spelling, discriminating sounds, it all still remains a problem. I chose a different career path which included being a disability advocate and educator. Before starting my comedy career five years ago, I taught, presented and trained. I thought my stuttering issues were resolved and I stopped going to stuttering events. I thought I had reached the pinnacle of self-acceptance because I would stutter openly when I spoke publicly. I didn’t know I was harboring internalized attitudes and stigmas that impacted my interpersonal and romantic relationships.
I attended an NSA conference in 2007 or 2008. I forget the year but it was the one in Arizona. For the first time in my life I was around young women who had stuttered. When I had volunteered at the conference when I was a teenager, there were not many women (we stutter significantly less than men), plus being one of the few females at the time I felt super out of place being surrounded by so many men. Luckily, in the years I had missed, there had been more outreach to women and girls who stutter. I felt more at home. Interacting with them I started to realize how I had internalized the stigma that society puts on people who stutter, especially women who stutter. These young women were a reflection of of my own life experiences and communication style. I realized that I had compromised myself in different ways and that I would never want that for these amazing women who were now friends. Like many who attend a NSA conference for the first time, my core being was shook. Finding a community that you didn’t know you had is a powerful experience. I realized how much space I gave up to others, both in conversation but also how I internalized that and played it out in relationships. In conversations I would let others speak and I would listen. I put their communication needs above my own because I didn’t want them to have awkward moments where I stuttered or burden them with my speech. As a woman this was easy to do because we are socialized this way, but as a person who stuttered it was exacerbated by the biases I had internalized. This transmuted itself into my relationship with the world. I had relinquished my own feelings and desires over to others. Upon coming home from the conference, I started to make changes. This included severing ties with people who didn’t allow me to be my authentic self and all the consequences that came with it.
After ending these relationships I started to rebuild my life. Within 7 months I started doing stand up comedy. Since I was 11 years old I had dreamt of doing comedy. Unlike most teeny boppers, I always preferred stand up comedy over music. Where as my high school friends had crushes on Donnie in New Kids on the Block, I was crushing on local stand up comedians, many of whom I would one day open for. Just like I had done with teaching so many years before, I had believed that I would have to be fluent in order to be a stand up comedian. I had never seen a comedian stutter, especially a woman, so I somehow thought fluency was a prerequisite for the job. Again I thought of the people I had met at the NSA conference and thought, would I tell them that they had to be fluent to do anything they wanted, especially something as silly as comedy? That was when I started taking stand up comedy classes and going to open mics. I started performing at laundry mats, sporting good stores, street corners, dive bars and occasionally venues like the Laugh Factory in LA or San Francisco’s Punchline. I started posting youtube clips that have over half a million views, published a children’s book on advocating for one’s disability, and recently produced the first ever comedy compilation album of only Disabled comedians. All of this is because I found the Stuttering community who helped to reframe how I thought about stuttering, myself and offered an opportunity to reflect and hold my fears, insecurities, successes and everything else that comes with have divergent speech in a world where fluency is the norm. I have a stamily, a community of people who stutter who are family. I have stuttering brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and Godfathers. And if you mess with one of them, I am coming after you.
Thanks to comedy I have had the pleasure of interacting with stamily from all over the world. I appreciate the support you have all given me and feel so fortunate to be part of this community.
May 11-17 is Stuttering Awareness week. To give back a little bit of what I have gained from the stuttering community, I am donating 75% of all sales of the Disabled Comedy Only (VERY ADULT CONENT! EXPLICIT!) album when bought on CD Baby (will not include other distribution outlets) and my book, Once Upon an Accommodation (sold on Amazon and Create Space and great for everyone) to the National Stuttering Association for the sales between May 11 and 17. Please check out the links below for ordering information.
Big news! The Comedians with Disabilities Act and Friends album is out. Disabled Comedy Only is the first ever compilation of Disabled comedians on a single album. Monumental! The recording was done independently and without any Jumpstarts or GoFundMes. As artists with disabilities we retained complete control over our material, our image and our brand. No abled bodied people dictated what we should or shouldn’t say. Please support independent comedy fighting for visibility, equity, and disability justice through comedy.
Please support the album by purchasing it at: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/comedianswithdisabilitie
and sharing our videos!
Thank you for the support!