|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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