Kunal Mahajan is a life-long person who stutters based in New York City and has spent the majority of his career in the financial services profession. He has been involved with various stuttering and disability non-profits and support groups and has been a champion of helping create more awareness and opportunities for people who stutter and those with other disabilities with career opportunities.
Change. Often it is the least popular idea in the room. Why change when there is a belief that the majority are ok with the status quo? The past 1.5 years in our world has shown us that the status quo is not ok for us to coexist as a society as we have seen an uprising with the social justice movement and from additional challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has created for us all. Individuals who have spoken up for change are the ones that have created a movement and progress comes when we can create a movement and others join you on your mission. However, the ultimate question remains, what is the change we want to genuinely see in our world and are we ultimately speaking up for?
It is no surprise to any of us to hear that the stuttering community has additional barriers that we face in the workplace. Barriers during the interview process such as some corporations moving towards timed pre-recorded interviews limiting response times to 30 seconds per question which makes it nearly impossible for those of us who stutter with more severe blocks or repetitions to get everything out in the short time period. While we have started to see some progress of stuttering workplace initiatives by some organizations, overall awareness of stuttering at work remains limited. With it being an invisible disability, many do not even recognize that stuttering is classified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and it often is not incorporated within an organization’s disability awareness education or part of their disability employee resource group as misconceptions still exist where people think people who stutter are just nervous and need to calm down. Lack of awareness leads to all the items many of us saw growing up: people cutting off our sentences due to impatience, telling us to just breathe and talk slower, and judging us by how the words are coming out and not on what the words that are coming out mean.
Now is the time for us to speak up for change and enable our stuttering community to become more connected with all of these social causes that are experiencing inequities. As many of us are very connected to our respective stuttering support groups in our respective regions, we feel a natural connection to the stuttering community. However, let us not forget about the wider disability community who we are part of that we can collaborate with and help support our agendas together as one collective unit. With 70% of all disabilities being invisible, there is such a large community within our respective workplaces that are facing very similar challenges as ourselves. Fears of judgement and repercussions at work remain the top concern for the disability community. Our stories are more similar to the neurodiversity community, the hearing loss community, the vision loss community, and other disability groups more than many of us may appreciate. Intersectionality is a topic that we need to dive in deeper so we can work together with more parties to make changes. Our stuttering community has multiple identities coming from different genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, etc. so let us work together with these other movements to develop equity for all.
What can we all do to make change today? Below are a few things we can do now to make changes:
- Reach out to your Human Resources department to recommend changes to the interview process or about wanting to start a disabilities employee resource group
- Get involved with stuttering support groups to share ideas and experiences with others to empower each other
- Get involved in other non-profit disability groups to help their causes and help the greater disability movement
- Share your experiences with anyone who will listen – we are the best educators on the planet about stuttering because it is our lived experiences
- Face your stutter head on through challenging yourself – Toastmasters, Improv, taking on more speaking roles, etc. will show not only yourself how much you can grow, but it will show the world how capable our stuttering community is
Through each of these steps, we can each contribute to changing our society to become more empathetic, understanding, and equitable to give everyone an equal opportunity. This is what we all deserve from the world we live in.
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