Nina G is a comedian and professional speaker. Every few months she chooses a nonprofit to highlight on social media and donate a portion of her speaking fees to. Since August she has raised month for the Parent Education Network to bring awareness to Ed Rev. Ed Rev will be held on April 22, 2017 at AT&T Park. It is an amazing day of self-awareness, advocacy and resources for individuals with learning and attentional disabilities.
Nina’s recent donation to PEN went towards helping community college students and faculty attend EdRev. The day is marked with amazing keynote speakers, workshops, information booths, youth participation, and other fun activities (like getting to run around the SF Giants baseball diamond). Plus Nina will be the MC and will signing her book Once Upon An Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities. “I love seeing so many young people being proud of the way they think,” Nina says of the event. “It’s something I just didn’t have when I was kid. To be there with other people who think differently and celebrate those differences is so empowering. I hope my contributions to PEN help bring more participants to this awesome event!”
If you are a student or teacher at a community college or public school then you are in for free if you use the codes below! Event is also interpreted in Spanish (see flyer). Hope to see you there!
On December 29th, 2015, Mel Tillis had a press conference in Laughlin, Nevada. Here’s what he said about stuttering (sorry video is so bad!). For many of us who stutter, we think we have to be perfect when we speak, but thankfully Minnie Pearl encouraged Mr. Tillis to speak on stage. Link to video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJN5nX_ERf0
MC: did you say Mel Tillis or M-Mel Tillis?
MEL: M-m-m-Mel Tillis.
MC: Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give a big round of applause for M-Mel Tillis!
MEL: I was signing autographs here oh, not too long ago, and there was a fellow in line. He was about 15 on down the line, and he hollers out, “Mel Tillis! I paid $34 to hear you stutter, and you ain’t stutter one damn bit!”
And I said, “I’m trying to quit, sir!”
MC: That’s awesome. Well, go ahead and have a seat right there.
You know, when I first went to Nashville, boy I really stuttered bad. And I signed on as a songwriter for Webb Pierce’s company, and he paid me $50 against a draw. And when the money started coming in, they took that out. So actually, they hired me for nothing.
But I was a songwriter, and Jim Denney was a part-owner of that company, the publishing company. He also had a booking agency. One of his acts was Minnie Pearl. Minnie was going out and doing the fair dates all over the Midwest: Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, all over the Midwest.
And she needed a rhythm guitar player and a singer. And Mr. Denny put me with her, and then I found out that she needed a fiddle player. Well, I had met a fiddle player at the coffee shop there on South and Union.
His name was Roger Miller.
And he said he could play the fiddle. I said, “Can you play?” “Yeah, I can play.” Then I went back, and I told them about him, and they hired him. We went out on the road, and I couldn’t even talk hardly in those days. Roger would introduce my song, and I’d sing it. Then, he’d come back out there and said, “Mel Tillis said ‘thank you’!”.
That’s the truth.
One day, Minnie Pearl–.
She’d been over there watching [inaudible] outdoors. I went over there, and I said, “Yes, Ma’am?” And says, “Mel,” she says, “I see that you have a little problem with speaking.” “Yes, Ma’am.”
And she said, “Well, if you’re gonna be in our business, you need to introduce your own song. And then you need to thank them. And then after the show, you need to sign autographs.” And I said, “Ms. Minnie, I c-,” I said, “I can’t do that.” I said, “They’ll laugh at me.” And she said, “No, they won’t now, but they’ll laugh with you.”
And I started talking onstage, and the next thing I knew, I did 17 Johnny Carson shows.
[inaudible], The Merv Griffin Show, The Dan Barton Show, The Hollywood Squares. I did them all and 13 movies. And Ms. Minnie was right.
MC: Yes, she was.
MEL: I started talking onstage. People did think that it’s something that I use. I don’t use it. When I was out there on the Glen Campbell “Goodtime Hour,” they would write that stuff, and we would say. They’d put the stutter in there!
I said, “I might not even stutter on that word! Take that thing outta there!”
But you know, over the years, the more I talked onstage–and Ms. Minnie was right–the less I stuttered.
It’s still part for me, when I read something. I still have a problem reading orally. And that’s why I read silent.
MC: That’s awesome. So you were also involved in the SAY organization, which is for people, actually, who have that challenge, who have stuttering.
MEL: The Stuttering Foundation of America, yeah. And I’ve got a painting–you put it up on your phone there–a painting called “Masonic America,” and I’ve raised $88,000 for speech and hearing clinics with the Stuttering Foundation of America. I’m proud of it.
You put it up. You’ll see it. [inaudible]. Not only will you see that picture, but you’ll see a lot of my paintings that I do. I do that too.
The schools oftentimes told my parents that Catholic school was not for me, that it wasn’t a place that I belonged and that they only served the “typical” kids. And the one story that I really wanted to share with you was when I first got diagnosed, the schools kinda tried to push me out. My mom tried to educate them about what a learning disability was.
And so she called up Cal at the time, and they had a disability office. And they specifically had a program for students who had LD. And she got a letter from the school and presented it to the teachers and said, “Look at this! You think she’s only gonna fry French fries. I think that was your exact term, McDonalds.”
So she said, “She’s only gonna work there,” which by the way, if they increase the minimum wage, that would be awesome. [ laughs ] You wouldn’t have any loans. And showed that letter to the teachers. And the teachers just kind of ignored it, and it didn’t really work.
But she folded it up and put it in the drawer next to my savings bonds from my first Communion and a lot of other really important things like my Social Security card. And it sat there, and for me, even though it didn’t help with the teacher, it helped that I saw her actually do that.
And I eventually went to Cal, and I think it was a big part because I knew that that was a school that they had accommodations.
And so sometimes the interventions and the activism and the advocacy that you do as a parent, it may not work on the person that you’re trying to direct it at. But it may work because of the impact on your kid.
This summer the Comedians with Disabilities lost our fearless (and I do mean fearless!) leader Michael O’Connell. Since then it has been difficult to get back up on stage, especially as a comedy troupe. October 19 we are back in action in Sacramento. Join old timers Nina G, Eric Mee and Steve Danner along side special guest Mean Dave and headliner Michael Beers. Tickets on sale at http://saccomedyspot.com/cda. All proceeds will go to the Michael O’Connell Foundation.
Michael Beers is someone I really wanted Michael O’Connell to meet. Beers is a Disability activist, community organizer and comedian from Missoula, Montana. He transforms how audiences see disability and even bought a used special ed bus to travel to gigs. You have to meet him!
There are states where you can stand in three different states at one time. One foot in California and half a foot in Arizona and another half in Nevada. That is how I feel about my experience in the Disability community. I am what is called a overt person who stutters (PWS). I also have Language based Learning Disabilities (LD). That means that a combination of processing difficulties makes it sometimes difficult to understand language in auditory or written forms. It also gives me trouble when I write (like what I am doing now, I hate it and have vowed on my blog not to worry about grammar and spelling. So deal with it!). You would think this is a unique experience, but in reality, approximately 25% of PWS also have LD or ADHD (http://www.csun.edu/~ainslab/readings/PastLabMembers/Keren/Blood_Co-occuring-disorders-in-children-who-stutter.pdf).
I am the BOGO (Buy One Get One Free) of the Stuttering and LD communities. The problem with this BOGO experience is I don’t always feel like I fit into either world. Some PWS may use word substitution when they predict a stutter. They know they might stutter on Pizza so they say flatbread instead. Part of my LD is dysnomia, which means I have word finding difficulties. My covert stuttering friends can come up with 5 words for what they want to say. That is not going to happen for me! It is one or two words, and likely, the second word is likely going to be inappropriate (keep in mind I am a comedian). The combination of stuttering and language based learning disabilities means that I have one foot out of the Disability closet that many people who stutter or have LD remain in.
Whoa! Stuttering and Learning Disabilities are disabilities? This is a controversy in both communities. In fact, I don’t know if I can even say people who stutter or have LD see themselves in the Disability closet. Whenever I am in those distinct communities, I have the feeling that the PWS are looking at my like, “yuh, of course you identify as having a disability, you have problems learning.” Meanwhile I feel that the LD community is looking at me saying, “we have learning differences, but you have a disability because you have problems speaking.” That is when I run to the Disability community. There I can find commonalities but it is sometimes difficult to join the conversation. Even with my 8 and half years of college and $100g of student loan debit, I still can’t decipher the eloquent prose. Aside from a few people with TBI or Autism, I don’t see people in the Disability community who process information like I do. I am standing at the intersection of states where stuttering, learning disabilities and the activist Disability community crisscrosses and inspite of my many options I don’t always feel at home.
I don’t feel as though there is one place where I can bring all of myself into. Part of this problem is the difficulties in connecting my LD to the outside world. You experience so much of your LD in isolation and sometimes the only place you can identify that part of yourself that is dyslexic, dysnomic, or experiencing muddled language is when you meet others who experience the same and where the hell are my adult peers? Sometimes I question if there is an advantage of coming out of the Disability closet for someone with LD? I mean discrimination and myths about LD still exist and people don’t always know what their rights are.
Running from one community to the next is tiring! I am thankful for each community that I have but wished my LD peps would reveal themselves and I wish that social media was more accessible so that there was more access for them to the larger Disability community. I want my LD and Stuttering communities to know the things that people who have more apparent disabilities have taught me. From my hard of hearing dad, I learned to disclose my stuttering. From my friend Jody, who has CP, I have learned how to gracefully fall (metaphorically for myself) and owning my falling. From Disability activists like Lawrence Carter-Long I have learned to #SayTheWord Disabled. I don’t think calling myself Disabled is shameful or that I am focusing on my deficits. I see it as a political and social identity. I am 5th generation Italian American on my mom’s side and 4th generation Disabled American on my dad’s side (he’s Italian too, but that’s beside the point).
Because of the combination of my LD and stuttering I have one foot out of the Disabled closet. My stuttering becomes more apparent. Sometimes my language processing activates my stuttering because I get so overwhlemed using my left temporal lobe (where both stuttering and my particular LD live). I am thankful that I am a BOGO Disabled person because it has meant that I needed to find the Disabled community, I just wish sometimes the Disabled community would find us. I wish I wasn’t the only dyslexic in the stuttering group or the only person with something other than learning disabilities in the LD group. I wish the Disability community made better efforts to include people with LD in the community, even when we are fighting and screaming not to join you. If we are calling a Learning Disability a “difference,” please meet us with compassion. We all process our experiences in different ways and with the narratives that we have been exposed to. I mean, I don’t see much Disability Studies rhetoric in our Resource Rooms where many of our kids with LD reside. In the end, don’t we all want to take advantage of the ADA and live a life free of discrimination and accommodations? I always say it isn’t the American with Differences Act or the Americans with Strengths and Challenges Act. You have to say the word to be part of the club. Especially when that club has been fighting for your rights for centuries. Wheelchair users want ramps to enter the school and individuals with LD want learning ramps for more accessible teaching and materials.
If we can all get on the same page we will be able to cross-collaborate, learn from one another, take advantage of our large numbers and work toward a more accessible and inclusive community for all of us.
April 16, 2016 is Ed rev. This year’s theme is “a day to think a little differently” with keynote speaker and author of World War Z, Max Brooks! Ed Rev celebrates the LD (Learning Disability) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) communities. It is a day to recognize our talents, challenges, civil rights and to foster self-esteem and empowerment of our community.
Gearing up for Ed Rev we are going to bring the party online! All this week and at Ed Rev we will take to social media with the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram hashtag #ThinkDifferently to celebrate our community. Whether you are an individual with LD/ADHD, family member or advocate, join us in showing your pride and educating others about LD/ADHD. Post pictures, artwork, videos, blogs and whatever else to show how you #ThinkDifferently or want others to #ThinkDifferently about LD/ADHD. .
Don’t know what to post? Here are some ideas!
The real deal about LD/ADHD! There are a lot of myths. Counter those with how LD/ADHD really impacts your live. How do you want people to #ThinkDifferently about LD/ADHD?
Who are your favorite people with LD/ADHD? Famous? Not-so-famous? Historical? Innovators (because you know there are a ton of those)?
What facts/stats should people know about LD/ADHD?
How are you empowered as a person with LD/ADHD or as a parent? Share your experiences! How are you a self-advocate?
How does having LD/ADHD helps someone to #ThinkDifferently? In what ways are you or someone you know innovative?
Why is finding LD/ADHD community important?
What makes you a proud parent of an individual with LD/ADHD?
My Tedx Talk is finally out! Please check it out and share. I focused on microaggressions and how to be an ally because I think both are talked about a lot but people rarely understand what they are in our everyday lives.
Have you been seeing your friends post about #DDDetainedInAtlanta and wondering what it was about? Here is the CliffsNotes version of what happened to Kalamazoo College junior Kylah Simmons on her return home to the United States, and why I think her story is important to people who stutter (and just about everyone else).
Detained for Stuttering at the Atlanta Airport
On Thursday, January 21st, 2016, Ms. Simmons, an American citizen with a squeaky clean record, was coming back from a six month study abroad program. She flew into the Atlanta International Airport, and while going through customs she responded and stuttered on “Costa Rica” when asked where she was flying from. She was then brought to another officer who asked her “Do you have a problem?” to which she responded “I have a speech impediment and stutter.”
You would think that the story stopped there, but it didn’t. Ms. Simmons reported that she was then detained in another section of customs for approximately an hour and missed her flight home to her family. While she was detained, the customs officials said she was “lying and dishonest.” Like many of us who stutter, Ms. Simmons didn’t stutter on every word (all you fluent people see horrible examples of stuttering in the media-there is great variety in how we speak) and this made the officer detaining her suspicious. He also continued to call Ms. Simmons’ stuttering a problem, to which she responded (keeping her stuttering composure!) “My stuttering is not a problem; it is a personal challenge that I face.”
Upon being released, she reported what happened to her to the supervisor of US Customs and Border Protection, and followed up with a letter documenting her experience. Ms. Simmons has not heard a response from US Customs or the Atlanta International Airport and they have not responded to requests for comment from StutterTalk.com, where she told her story the next day. Ms. Simmons has stated that she doesn’t want anyone fired, but she would like the staff at the Atlanta Airport to have some training on communicating with a person who stutters, because she doesn’t want this to happen to others. This is because that is something many of us are afraid of. When her story came out so many of us who stutter responded with “This has been my fear realized.”
Why is it important that this happened at the Atlanta Airport?
In July there will be an international conference of people who stutter (combination of the International Stuttering Association and the National Stuttering Association) and guess where it is going to be? Atlanta! This means that likely over one thousand people who stutter will be going through the very airport that Ms. Simmons was detained in. The ATL will be up to their eyeballs in people who stutter and if they are going to detain us, they don’t have enough rooms! Plus, as an American who fights for Disability justice, I am proud of what my country has done on many Disability fronts and I want people from other countries to experience the freedom to have diverse speech and not meet discrimination because of it, especially hs they are entering and leaving the US. So, Atlanta Airport–especially customs–make us proud and get some training in how to talk to people who stutter! Come July, it will save you a lot of time and resources!
Support for Ms. Simmons
After Ms. Simmons told her story on StutterTalk.com, the host, Peter Reitzes, followed up with a second show where he interviewed Corporal Phil Peet, who offered some advice and guidelines for customs officials, demystifying the customs process for people who stutter.
A Twitter campaign was also launched to help educate ATL and the world about the need for training. People who stutter and their allies sounded off about what the Atlanta Airport and the world needs to know about stuttering. You can find it under #DDDetainedInAtlanta on Twitter. There were memes made, advice and opinions raised, and videos.
Call to Action
As with most issues there are little and big things you and the organizations you are associated with can do to help! Here are some suggestions:
Call attention to this story and to the need to train customs officials, airport personnel, and even fire fighters and police on stuttering. There are many misconceptions about stuttering and we need to fight these head on, with accurate information along with concrete strategies regarding how to interact with people who stutter. Many of us stutter more around people of authority, when we are under stress or when we have to use precise language and words (like Costa Rica). We shouldn’t be suspect because of our speech, especially once we disclose that we stutter!
Advocate within the organizations you belong to so that they can weigh in on this issue. It is the responsibility of professional organizations that focus on speech disability issues to also fight for our rights and independence. We don’t stutter in a bubble! We need the assistance of organizations like these to educate the public about speech disabilities, and take a stand when the rights of the people they aim to serve are being violated.
Continue to educate your local and online communities about stuttering. Share articles, videos, or anything else that shows the reality of what stuttering is and the experience of people who stutter. We have centuries of misinformation to combat and every little bit helps to reshape attitudes.
When you see something happen that feels weird or awkward about stuttering, say something—especially if you are a person who does not stutter. Many times we face discrimination in isolation and it is important to have those around us validate it and do something about it.
For people who stutter who are traveling:
Although I am not well traveled, especially internationally, the past few days I have come across some important things to remember while flying. Please feel free to share more in the comments sections.
-You may need to disclose that you stutter (which not all of us are comfortable doing) in order to explain your speech. Since this first posted, Ms. Simmons, in collaboration with The Stuttering Foundation, have created and released a travel card. The card, that you can print for free from here describes what stuttering is. My guess is that such a card is good for people who stutter to carry all the time. It might be presented when questioned by police at a traffic stop or at the airport.
-Know your rights. Listen to Corporal Peet’s interview and know what to expect and how to react when going through customs or similar processes. As he emphasized: if communication with personnel isn’t going well, ask to speak to a supervisor.
-If you feel discriminated against by customs or other government agencies, you can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights who will investigate.
This is nowhere near a complete list of a call for action. If you have other recommendations, please add them below.
This past week Kylah Simmons (pictured below) was coming back from a study abroad trip in Costa Rica when she was detained for stuttering at the Atlanta Airport. You can hear and read more about her experience on her interview with StutterTalk.
It is always alarming when people who stutter are detained, discriminated against or treated badly because of their speech, but in this case the Atlanta Airport better shape up and fast! The 11th World Congress on Stuttering teams up with the National Stuttering Association in July for a conference. Guess where? Atlanta!! Literally, there will be over one thousand people who stutter (including myself) going through that very airport. Needless to say, they better get educated!
What better way to educate the Atlanta Airport and the rest of the world than through a Twitter campaign!
Let’s take to Twitter to educate the Atlanta Airport and the world about stuttering under the hashtag #DDDetainedInAtlanta. Be sure to tag their Twitter handle: @ATLairport. Tweet what you think they should know and advocate for more training of their employees—especially for the influx of people who stutter in July! Believe me Atlanta Airport, you don’t have enough rooms to detain us in July!!
We have a voice!
Insights from a stuttering comedian with dyslexia. These are my unedited thoughts. Grammar and spelling doesn't count on blogging, especially since it did I would never post!