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Speech Recognition

When Tammy Davidson Thompson graduated with a PhDfrom the University of East Anglia (UEA) in July, the Vice Chancellor Professor Edward Acton stressed the importance of funding by the Dominic Barker Trust. Tammy’s topic “A Survey of Practice of Speech and Language Therapists who Work with People who Stutter” has revealed fascinating insight and her results and recommendations have been recognised across the stammering community. Her questionnaire, circulated to the British Stammering Association (BSA) list of speech and language therapists (SLT’s) achieved an impressive 77.5 per cent response.

Areas covered included SLTtraining, whether SLT’s were generalists or specialists in dysfluency, the extent to which they worked with adults, issues their clients raised, assessment and techniques used. A panel of experts comprising researchers, clinicians and people who stutter helped to ensure robust interpretation of her findings. Of particular importance was the approach that therapists took when working on psychosocial issues such as social anxiety.

Adults who stutter may avoid situations where they will be expected to speak, leading to limitations in terms of education, employment and relationships( as documented in Isobel Crichton Smith’s work funded by
theTrust). These issues were targeted using a variety of techniques,but many SLT’s felt they did not receive enough pre- or post-qualification training in this area, and that there were significant differences in methods used. Tammy recommended that adults who stutter should be seen by specialist rather than generalist therapists, that prequalification training of therapists should be reviewed, and that the NHS should support proven therapy techniques such as intensive courses for adults who stutter.

Tammy’s work, which has been presented at four major conferences, has been cited in a synthesis investigating good practice for working with stuttering, commissioned by The Royal College of Speech and
Language Therapists (RCSLT) – directly influencing policy and practice.

Stammering in the workplace

The Trust funded a new and exciting research project entitled ‘Stammering and the Workplace’ conducted by Dr Clare Butler from Newcastle University. She used qualitative research to elicit stories of the employment experiences of people who stammer (PWS). The results were well received by the British Stammering Association (BSA) National Conference in Lincoln and the British Academy of Management (BAM) conference at Cardiff University, with the latter being particularly important in raising awareness amongst employers.

Three main themes emerged. First, the initial job interview often presented a major challenge to PWS. Participants felt they were not respected for what they had to say and this was most evident, and of greatest importance, during recruitment. Second, participants described their experiences of discrimination by
others during recruitment and at work generally, but there was also evidence of self-discrimination, with many avoiding certain careers or roles because of their speech. A number sought low profile jobs or preferred lone working, limiting their own career aspirations. Finally, a number of participants discussed the changing work context and a reduction in the roles that are, or would be, available to them as PWS. They often felt excluded from the rapidly growing service or retail sectors, which involved immediate speech encounters and were described as challenging, difficult or impossible for PWS to perform.

However, it was not all negative.Participants engaging in on-going relationships with customers, partner organisations or colleagues, used their enhanced listening skills to great effect, attributing their heightened empathy and ability to connect with others to being a PWS – and adding value to their role. Participants who achieved an alignment between stammering and the workplace talked openly about their stammer highlighting both the difficulties they faced and the strengths it gave them. They had seemingly altered the significance and classification of being a PWS  - moving their stammer from being representative of difference to being representative of similarity. Summing up Dr Clare Butler said: “I would like to thank both the participants and the Trust. I hope this project has helped to move the conversation of stammering into places and spaces that have until now been silent.” clare.butler@newcastle.ac.uk

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