FAQ #2: Stuttering, Employment, and the ADA


Send comments to: kehoe@netcom.com

The author, Thomas David Kehoe, is owner of Casa Futura Technologies,
president of the San Jose chapter of the National Stuttering Project,
and a member of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.

July 2, 1995


"There was a recent case of discrimination based on stuttering that I
was able to play a small role in.  A weather forecaster for the National
Weather Service, based in Washington, D.C., was denied promotion to a
higher position, where he would have had to make rapid decisions about
forecasts, on the grounds that he was "indecisive."  He sued the
government, claiming discrimination against him based on his speech.
The supervisor, who made the judgment, had no other evidence that he was
indecisive, except his speech, and of course hesitancy in speech does
not in any way imply hesitancy in decision making.

"I was asked to supply expert testimony and did so by reviewing the
scientific literature showing a cleat tendency for listeners to make
false judgments about stutterers, and employers in particular.  A
telling piece of evidence for this case came from a study in which it
was shown  that the personality characteristics that nonstutterers
attribute to people who stutter are based on the feeling that the
nonstutterers fell when they are hesitant, or stumble, in their speech Q
nervousness and uncertainty primarily.  We were able to argue that, in
the case of the weatherman seeking promotion, the supervisor had made
just such an error concluding from his speech pattern that he was
uncertain because she (the supervisor) stumbled in her speech when she
felt uncertain.  Upon presentation of this testimony, the case was
settled and the man promoted." (Woody Starkweather, Ph.D.)


The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits employment
discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities.  ADA
defines three types of  an "individual with a disability" (Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission Technical Assistance Manual, page 

- a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more
major life activities.  Speaking is one such major life activity.
Others include seeing and hearing.

- a record of such an impairment.  This applies more to individuals with
a history of mental illness.

- is regarded as having such an impairment.  This protects people who
are not substantially limited in a major life activity but are perceived
to have such a limitation.  For example, you may be capable of
communicating, but your employer thinks that you can't communicate.

The ADA applies to private employers, state and local governments,
employment agencies, and labor unions.  The ADA does not apply
to the federal government, including the military services.


In a job interview, Carol asks whether her stuttering will be a problem.
The interviewer says yes, the job requires making presentations to

Carol says that she has completed two courses in public speaking.  She
explains that she can't say as much as fluent persons, so she plans her
presentations carefully, gets up in front of the group, and gets right
to her points.  Her professors say that her presentations are generally
better than her fluent classmates'.

The interviewer says that excellent presentation skills are required for
the job and ends the interview.   Is the interviewer discriminating
against Carol?

Yes.  The interviewer has never seen Carol make a presentation.  Persons
who stutter can have excellent communication skills.  Carol's
presentations may be informative, interesting, and persuasive.  The
interviewer falsely believes that persons who stutter can't make
excellent presentations.

The Supreme Court stated that, "society's myths and fears about
disability and disease are as handicapping as are the physical
limitation that flow from actual impairments." (EEOC, II-10.)


ADA protects individuals with disabilities who are qualified for jobs.
ADA defines two steps in determining qualification for a job:

- education, work experience, training, skills, licenses, certificates,

- whether the individual can perform essential functions of the job,
with or without reasonable accommodation.

An essential function is a task that the employees in the position
actually do, and removing that task fundamentally changes the job.  ADA
does not require employers to develop or maintain written job
descriptions (EEOC, II-15).

Mark is a software engineer.  His supervisor announces a job opening for
a telephone customer support engineer, at $5,000 a year more than what
Mark earns.  Mark expresses interest in the job.  His supervisor advises
Mark to stay in software development.

Mark suggests a reasonable accommodation.  The technical support staff
receives questions both by telephone and by electronic mail.  He
suggests that he answer all the electronic mail, thus freeing the other
technical support staff to answer more telephone calls.

His supervisor says that this won't work.  The calls tend to come in
bunches, and sometimes they need as many people on the phones as
possible.  At other times no calls come in for hours, and the staff
answers the electronic mail during these lulls.

Mark is capable of talking on telephones, but he is not as capable as
other employees.  Mark finds talking on telephones difficult and
embarrassing.  ADA requires the employer to make a reasonable
accommodation if the employee requests one.

Mark shows his supervisor a brochure for an electronic fluency aid that
plugs into telephones.  According to the brochure, the fluency aid will
enable Mark to talk fluently immediately, and the fluency aid costs

Mark also shows his supervisor a brochure from a speech therapy clinic.
This costs $2500, and Mark will have to take two weeks off from work.
Mark asks his employer to pay for one or both of these.

The supervisor says that if Mark pays for the electronic fluency aid or
the speech therapy, and demonstrates that he can talk fluently, then the
supervisor will promote Mark to the new job.  The supervisor says that
with the additional $5,000 a year salary, Mark will come out ahead.

Does ADA require the company to pay for Mark's electronic fluency aid or
speech therapy?

Employers are not "...obligated to provide personal use items, such as
glasses or hearing aids..." (EEOC, I-6).  Mark will have to prove that
he doesn't need the fluency aid or speech therapy outside of work.

A reasonable accommodation need not be the best accommodation 
available, as long as it is effective for the purpose (EEOC, III-4).  
If the $500 electronic fluency aid enables Mark to talk fluently, his 
employer does not have to pay for the $2500 speech therapy.  (These 
prices are fictitious.  Actual electronic fluency aids and speech 
therapy programs vary widely in price.)

A qualified individual with a disability has the right to refuse an
accommodation (EEOC, III-1).  If Mark doesn't want to use an electronic
fluency aid or go to speech therapy, his employer can't force him.


The Tax Credit for Small Business (Section 44 of the Internal Revenue
Code) credits smaller employers for half the cost of "eligible access
expenditures" (EEOC, III-34).

The software company buys Mark a $500 electronic fluency aid, and the
IRS gives them $250 back in a tax credit.

The Targeted Jobs Tax Credit Program gives tax credits to employers who
hire individuals with disabilities.  The IRS will give your employer up
to $2400 for hiring you.

The IRS allows you to deduct medical expenses, including special
equipment, provided you itemize deductions on Schedule A, and your total
medical expenses exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.

There are many other sources of third-party payment for stuttering
therapy and equipment:

- NYNEX will provide an anti-stuttering (DAF) telephone to Massachusetts
residents who stutter (the device won't be available until August 1995).
California, Minnesota, and Montana telephone companies are expected
to provide similar equipment in 1996.

- If you are unemployed, your state vocational rehabilitation program
may pay for therapy and/or  equipment.

- Some insurance companies pay for speech therapy and/or equipment.
Many, however, exclude stuttering.

- Low-income children who stutter may qualify for federal Supplemental
Security Income.

Details are available in the Americans With Disabilities Act Resource
Directory and in the Pocket Guide to Federal Help for Individuals with
Disabilities (available from the U.S. Government Printing Office,
Pueblo, CO 81009).


If you feel you have been discriminated against,  call your local office
of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and file a complaint.
You can also call the EEOC at (800) 669-4000.

You must file a charge of discrimination within 180 days of the alleged
discriminatory act (EEOC, X-3).

After you file a charge of discrimination, the EEOC notifies the charged
entity.  The EEOC then investigates, and attempts to resolve the charge
through conciliation.  If conciliation fails, the EEOC files suit or
issues a "right to sue" letter (EEOC, X-2).

For publications about ADA, call the EEOC ADA Helpline at (800) 669-
EEOC.  Request the publication A Technical Assistance Manual on the
Employment Provisions (Title I) of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Also request the accompanying Resource Directory, which lists 
government programs and other organizations that provide information 
on disabilities and employment.

ADA covers only employment discrimination.  If you experience
discrimination or harassment outside of work, you will have to rely on
other federal or state laws.  The ADA Resource Directory should get you
started, or you may contact non-profit organizations such as the
Stuttering Foundation of America or the National Stuttering Project.


"Another interview lasted about two minutes.  The interviewer (another
personnel director -- they seem to be the worst problem) found an excuse
to say I was not qualified for the job -- so good-bye.  I protested,
asked for the technical interview and was asked to leave.  As his excuse
was plainly made up -- this was also probably a case of discrimination."
(David N. Bertollo)

Talk about stuttering first.  Your first impression on the interviewer
will be that you stutter -- and many people feel uncomfortable talking
to a person who stutters.  Educate them about stuttering to make them
feel comfortable.

Some interviewers make incorrectly assumptions about individuals who
stutter (EEOC, V-16).  For example, some people think that individuals
who stutter are mentally retarded -- even if you have a Ph.D.!

"About 6 years ago, students in my grad. class in stuttering did several
survey studies regarding stuttering...One of the most interesting
involved employers.  As a group, the employers surveyed indicated that
they would prefer to hire someone who was deaf or someone with 
moderate cerebral palsy rather than someone who stuttered.  
Interestingly, several of the employers who said they would not 
hire a stutterer had one or more stutterers already working for them.

"When we probed to understand the WHY behind the employers' responses,
we learned that essentially they thought they "understood" deafness and
CP, but stuttering was strange -- and they assumed that persons who
stutter were strange."  (Frances Freeman, Ph.D.)

Say that you stutter and explain what you are doing to overcome

- If you're in a speech therapy program, discuss your progress and what
specific techniques or strategies you are trying to employ.

- If you learned nonavoidance skills in speech therapy, explain that
although you stutter, you've overcome your fears of talking to
strangers, etc.

- If you use an electronic fluency aid, briefly explain how your fluency
aid works.

"I have completed a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from SUNY at
Buffalo.  I have been applying to several places for jobs.  Fortunately,
I did get three interviews.  It is sad to say that, despite my excellent
qualification and technical abilities, after the interviews, they are
suddenly not interested in education and obviously do not want to extend
any hopes (obviously after finding out my stuttering problem).  During
the last interview, the vice president of the division asked me if I
have any speech problem.  I honestly explained my stuttering and told
him about my ongoing speech therapy.  Needless to say that my
confrontation immediately turned him off and I never heard back anything
from that company.

"Please note that it does not seem to be open discrimination but I feel
that had I was fluent I could have possible job offer since it was
directly in field of my research work." (Name withheld)

Employers may not make any pre-employment inquiries regarding
disability, but may ask questions about the ability to perform specific
job functions.  In other words, an interviewer may not ask you about
your stuttering.  An interviewer may ask if you have experience making
telephone calls to customers, or about your experiences in public
speaking, if these are essential job functions.

If the interviewer says something unlawful, politely explain the ADA.
Bring a copy of the ADA Technical Assistance Manual with you.

Explain that you have excellent communication skills.  Give specific

- "Although I stutter, I've developed my public speaking skills through
membership in Toastmasters."

- "I can say a phrase fluently if I say it a lot.  In my last job, I
pretty much said the same things to customers all day, and my speech was

- "In my last job, I was on the marketing staff, and had to call
engineers every day.  At first the engineers didn't want to talk to me,
maybe because I was in marketing, maybe because I stutter, I don't know.
But flattery got me everywhere.  I said things like, 'You're the expert
on this system, can you explain how to...'  Soon the engineers were
returning my calls right away."

After you get the job, don't shirk duties to hide stuttering.  This
gives employers excuses to fire you.  You can't claim discrimination if
you shirk duties.

"The interview for the job that I currently have was one of the few
interviews in which I discussed in depth the nature of my stuttering
problem.  I spent about a half hour discussing my speech, and I think
that it was very helpful for the interviewer in understanding how well I
could work around my handicap." (Tom Morrow)