Myself As I am, Not As Others See Me: Stuttering, Identity and Acceptance – Carolina Ayala

About the Author: Carolina Ayala lives in Toronto, Canada. She has her Masters in Critical Disability Studies and did her major research paper on how her stuttering is affected by her listener. Carolina first realized she was “different” when she started school and was ostracized by her teachers and her classmates. To prevent being teased and bullied, she only spoke when necessary. In 1989, Carolina’s journey with stuttering took a turn for the better. Carolina was given the main role in the Gemini nominated documentary “Speaking of Courage.” This documentary was very uplifting for her, and it gave her hope for the future; stuttering was no longer a death sentence. Two years ago, Carolina went to her first McGuire program course and has worked hard to obtain control and eloquence in her speech. She is thankful for finding this great program and awesome support system. In her spare time, Carolina loves to travel, enjoys boot camp workouts, teaching college students, shopping and engaging in lively discussions about issues related to disability issues.

An excerpt from Myself As I am, Not As Others See Me: Stuttering, Identity and Acceptance (written by Carolina Ayala), a thesis research paper submitted to the Graduate Program in Critical Disability Studies at York University in Toronto, Canada.


It was a snowy Friday night, and I had stayed late at my university campus in Scarborough. I had just finished a long study session for my semantics course. I had been at school since noon and was ready to hit the sack. The building seemed deserted. I walked along the bare grey concrete halls to one of the two free phones on campus. I had made the same call twenty times in the past semester, but never without waiting in a line-up. At this late hour I did not have to wait.

I dialled the number of the only taxicab company I knew. I mentally rehearsed what I needed to say. “I need a taxi cab to 567 Markham Road. I am at the main entrance of the University of Toronto.” As soon as the female operator picked up and said “Hello?” I began to feel my throat closing up. I could scarcely get a sound out. When this happens, I am not always clear about the reason, but it is often a reaction to feeling nervous. Before I knew it, I was listening to a dial tone—she had hung up on me. I had been hung up on many times before, yet I had never fully gotten used to it. I felt it was unfair that people were not patient with me. However, I reminded myself that people did not know I was a stutterer, as all they heard was silence.

After a deep breath, I began dialling the numbers again slowly. I focused on using the speech targets that I had learnt in therapy a few years earlier. I rarely used these techniques because I felt that it made me sound like a robot; now seemed like an optimal time to put it to use. I needed to get home. Once again I called and was barely able to say “Iiii neeeeed a taxxxxiiii….” The same operator said, “Stop playing around!” and she hung up. From her manner, I gathered that she was around my age. Perhaps she thought I was just another student making a crank call.

I mustered up my courage and called back a third time, shaking and upset. I imagined spending the night on campus, lying awake on one of those black smelly never-cleaned fake leather couches. I told her matter-of-factly, “Thisss is not a jjjjoke. I neeed a taxi.”  I was able to say a few more words, but they seemed to have no impact on her. Again she laughed at me, as if she were mocking me and hung up the phone. By now, I was crying and scared. In the preceding months, my campus had been the site of many sexual assaults on female students. I feared for my personal safety. I also felt hurt to be judged and dismissed. All she had to go on was my voice. This was and continues to be why I sometimes despise using the phone.

I took a few minutes to compose myself. I decided to make a last ditch effort at getting a taxi to take me home. The last call was my salvation. An older female voice picked up my call. The operator listened intently as I said, “I neeeed a taxi to 567 Mmmarkham Rd.” About ten minutes later my cab arrived. I climbed in and sat silently throughout the ride, trying not to recall the events of the last hour, and hoping to avoid a repetition. It was a relief to get home where it was safe. Before I went to sleep, however, I decided that I would file a complaint. I did not want other people to experience what I had just gone through.

Early Monday morning, I called the supervisor of the taxi operators. I told her about my terrible ordeal and filed a complaint against the operator who had treated me so poorly. Later, I was informed that the operator had been fired for that incident and previous similar ones. I was pleased with the outcome, as it indicated that they had taken me seriously. Their action demonstrated that they valued all their customers, including me. More importantly, they promised that I would not go through a similar ordeal again. The supervisor told all of her staff about me and my stuttering, and instructed them concerning where I normally call from, and where I live. This was a little embarrassing, as it positioned me as a dependant: someone whose movements are monitored, even if for benign reasons. Nevertheless, it is very helpful when it is the middle of the night and I need to get home. I appreciated her thoughtfulness.

This is an important memory for me, because it was one of the first times that I advocated for myself. I did not ask someone to speak for me. I spoke out against unacceptable treatment as an adult consumer who knew her rights and entitlements. Most of all, I was heard. It was encouraging that the supervisor was patient and respectful enough to let me get my point across. Although the telephone incident was painful, it boosted my self-esteem and made me a stronger advocate.

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Comments

Myself As I am, Not As Others See Me: Stuttering, Identity and Acceptance – Carolina Ayala — 20 Comments

  1. Well done Carolina, this will hold you in good stead for the future. At the end of the day the result is what counts.Good luck for the future.

  2. Thanks for sharing such a courageous story, turning a negative situation into a positive one. Great takeaway inspiring others to do the same. Good luck for the future.

  3. Carolina, I am so happy that you shared this story here. I remember when you shared this on our podcast episode. It was as emotionally powerful then as it is now. You are so brave to share your voice, which so richly deserves to be heard. The lessons you’ve learned about self advocacy and that you’re now sharing with others are going to help so many that are not there yet.

    I am so happy that you are in a good place in your journey and that you’re speaking your mind to help others in our community.

  4. Carolina, Thank you for sharing your story in a way the reader could feel like we were there. Are there things that you do to help making phone calls easier? Any tactics that you could share?

    • Thank you for your comment. I would say that what has helped me the most is my own inner self confidence, knowing that I am a woman that deserves to be heard and that deserves patience from my listener. Letting my listener know that I do stutter has been very helpful to me as well. I also need to be mindful that my listener may not have been in contact with someone who stutters and it is therefore my job to educate them on stuttering and how they can best help us, as people who stutter. I hope this is helpful!

      • I also meant to say that as much as I want to be an educator, there are days when I am not at my best and I am not able to fulfill that role. I think that is okay too. we do what we can, when we can.

  5. Carolina,

    This story really helped portray real events that individuals who stutter go through! I am so glad that you were able to pull a positive outcome from this experience and advocate for yourself. It sounds like this moment was a turning point for you. Advocacy is such a game changer in any communication difference or disorder. Advocating opens a new realm of opportunities and advantages; I hope this was the case for you. Thank you for posting this story, as I hope that others can gain the courage and confidence to advocate for themselves as a result of reading this!

    Thank you,
    Lexi Haigh

  6. Hi Lexi, Nice to hear from you! Indeed advocacy is very important and I really think it goes hand in hand with self confidence and self love–we are worth waiting for and we are worth educating others how they are helping us or in some cases hindering us. It is still a struggle for me some days but I know that I need to speak up for those PWS that come after me.

  7. What a powerful story! I am so glad to hear that the company disapproved of the behavior, but it was interesting that part of their well-intentioned response was somewhat complicated. Your response seems both strong but also practical. Though I’m not a PWS, I’d like to emulate this approach as I face challenging situations that require some self-advocacy. Thank you for sharing your experience!

    • Hi Bec and thank you for reading my article. I really appreciate it. I am glad you found my writing useful. Best wishes on your self-advocacy journey!

  8. Hi Carolina,

    What a well-written article! We love how you turned a negative situation into a constructive one with your push for self-advocacy. We’re glad to hear that your story had a positive ending and that it increased your self-esteem. As future speech-language pathologists, we are learning about the importance of empowering our clients and encouraging them to advocate for themselves.

    Has self-advocating become easier as time goes on? Do you have any advice for people who are nervous to self-advocate?

    Thank you,
    Alex & Madison

    • Hi Alex and Madison,
      thank you for your thoughtful response. Self advocacy has become easier overall but of course there are situations where the response to your self-advocacy is not what you expected and it can take its toll emotionally etc but you have to get up and continue walking…

      My advice to anyone nervous of trying self-advocacy would be to say we have a voice and we deserve to be heard, no matter how long our listener needs to wait. We need to be confident in ourselves, so that others will see us for who we are, which goes much deeper than how we say our words. I hope this helps. 🙂

  9. Hi Carolina,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this excerpt from your thesis! As a graduate student in the field of Speech-Language Pathology, I find the concept of self-advocacy to be especially powerful. From reading this piece, I noticed you that made a reference to a strategy you learned in speech therapy. Provided these context clues, I was curious to know if you found your experience in speech-language therapy to be empowering? Additionally, what advice do you have for individuals who are interested in promoting feelings of acceptance, empowerment, and self-advocacy?

  10. Hi Carolina,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have often answered the phone at work just to hear silence on the other end. I had not previously considered that the person making the call might be someone who stutters. I suspect that other people have encountered this as well. Do you have any thoughts on how to avoid unintentionally making the interaction more difficult?

  11. Hi Kristin,

    Thanks for reading my article and for responding. I do write about some of my speech therapy journey in my thesis, so if you would like to read my thesis, I would happily send it to you. I would just need your email address.

    In a nutshell, my experience with speech therapy was not empowering but it was for a specific reason. Several times during my speech therapy journey, I would begin to develop therapeutic rapport with my speech pathologist (my stuttering was a source of great emotional distress to me as a child and teen). Unfortunately several speech pathologists changed jobs, which left me in quite a quandary. Therapeutic rapport cannot be formed with everyone. This incidents were hard for me and therefore I was not very enthusiastic to go back for more therapy for a long time.

    My advice for people interested in promoting acceptance, empowerment and self-advocacy is do it, do it and do it!!!
    The more we advocate for ourselves, the more we are educating our community and helping to make the experience better for the next person who stutters.

    I look forward to hearing from you!

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