I have a speech impediment with my physical disability. It’s hard for most people to understand me at first, but once they get to know me, it gets easier. I usually have a personal care assistant around to translate for me. I’ve been opposed to using a communication device instead of my own speech to communicate because it’s faster for me to repeat myself as opposed to typing what I want to say into a communication device and having what I typed read aloud. I type with one finger.
Picture of Stephen Hawking with his communication device from this online article.
Although I’ve been against using a communication device, I haven’t been so headstrong about using my speech for legal advocacy. I developed strategies for trial and oral advocacy, which I have been developing since Moot Court and Trial Practice in law school. Here’s my oral advocacy strategy: I write out my opening statement and argument so that my laptop reads it in court, and if I need to do a rebuttal, I have my assistant translate. For trials, it’s the same concept. I write out my opening and my direct exam questions, then have an assistant translate my cross exam questions and closing. My law school friend, who was also my co-counsel, translated for me during our Trial Practice competition. We lost horribly. I used the same strategy for my administrative hearings after law school, when I represented myself against the California Regional Center for my disability services. I won more hearings than I have lost with this strategy.
I recently found out through hearsay that my speech impediment has to do with my rejections for employment at the organization I’ve been wanting to work at and where I’ve been interviewed for a few times. This is ironic since it is a disability rights organization with a full time sign language interpreter for employees. I have gotten the impression that I don’t have “the right disability” or am “too disabled” for disability rights organizations. Yes, these were attorneys interviewing me for attorney and advocate positions.
Well, I’ve been reflecting on this. I always figured that employers were not hiring me out of fear of having to hire an assistant for me, but I didn’t realize that it had more to do with my speech. I keep having flashbacks to junior high when the special education coordinator (I was in mainstream classes, but I had someone coordinate my educational accommodations and a teaching aide) told me that I had to use my laptop to give my science group presentation. Who tells a rebellious pre-teen what to do? In protest, I used my speech without a translator. Fortunately, my friends and I didn’t care about grades back then.
Christy Brown (1932-1981), an Irish writer and painter with cerebral palsy, who was able to write, type, and paint with the toes of one foot. His most recognized work is his autobiography, My Left Foot. This picture shows Christy typing with his foot from christybrown.info.
I do worry that clients will react similarly to the attorneys who have interviewed me, a concern in starting my practice. But when I volunteered for an advocacy office serving clients with developmental disabilities, my clients and their family members actually appreciated my speech impediment. Perhaps I need to find those clients, or as many advised, become an expert in a special field. But how?
Picture from Roger Ebert’s 2011 TED talk found online here. After Ebert lost his lower jaw to cancer, he lost the ability to eat and speak. But he did not lose his voice. Ebert with the assistance of his laptop, wife, and other friends, tell his story.