‘You are Lifting People’s Voices and Lives,’ StoryCorps Creator Tells Conference Attendees

family photos“Every life matters equally and infinitely.”

That lesson is one that Dave Isay has learned in the process of compiling more than 60,000 conversation through “StoryCorps,” the project that collects recordings of conversations between everyday people. The author, documentarian and StoryCorps founder opened the 2015 ASHA Schools Conference and Health Care Business Institute by sharing some of those stories in a joint plenary session.

The project began as a single recording booth in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal and now includes mobile audio booths that travel throughout the country and a recently launched mobile app. Millions of listeners tune in weekly to hear them on NPR’s Morning Edition.

The premise is simple: Come into the booth with someone you care about and, with the assistance of a facilitator, conduct a 40-minute interview.

What often ensues, Isay says, is a discussion centered on “If I had 40 minutes to live, what would I tell the person I love?”

He shared recordings of an older couple, both before and after the husband was diagnosed with cancer. The story of a renowned surgeon, who reveres his late father—a janitor and chauffeur—and who says, “I hope I can be just half the man he was.” A conversation between a woman and the man who, at 16, murdered her son, about forgiveness and the deep relationship they have since forged. The actor who stutters and who concludes, “Who would I be if I didn’t stutter? I would be a completely different person.”

A man with Alzheimer’s disease is interviewed by his two daughters. “I have no regrets,” he says. “I have a family I love and they’re loving people. That’s the biggest thing you can leave.” And a daughter responds, “You created such love. We want to be around you.”

A mother who has developmental disabilities tells her interviewer—her teenage daughter—“I am thankful because you love me and understand me.” A mother asks her 10-year-old son—who at 4 asked Santa to allow his younger sister to hear—about growing up with a sister who is deaf. “Well, I get to meet a lot of hearing-impaired people I wouldn’t have gotten to know,” he responds. “And when kids make fun of her, I tell her they’re just jealous because she gets to do cool things like learn sign language and stuff.”

The recordings often evoke deep emotions, as evidenced by the number of session attendees reaching into pockets and purses for tissues.

This “collection of the wisdom of humanity,” as Isay describes it, is testament to the work of communication sciences and disorders professionals. “You work very hard,” he told the audience, “and you love your work. You are lifting people’s voices and lives. You help give them voice, love and hope.”

Speech-language pathologists are “so much about what we do at StoryCorps,” Isay said. “We shake people on the shoulder and say, ‘This is what’s important.’”

Isay concluded with a favorite quote of Mr. Rogers, the beloved children’s television host, but attributed to a Philadelphia nun: “It’s impossible not to love someone whose story you’ve heard.”

“We love you for the work you do,” Isay told the audience. “Keep loving and listening.”

Carol Polovoy is managing editor of The ASHA Leader.

HCBI: Where Passion and Knowledge Collide

Save life and knowledge concept
Save life and knowledge concept

Let’s just face it…I’m a conference geek! From my previous career in higher ed student affairs to now, I’ve thrived on attending conferences: the sessions, the networking, the energy… I could go on and on about what I LOVE about conferences!

So attending the ASHA Health Care and Business Institute was a no-brainer! Especially since it was in Phoenix, which meant no travel and hotel costs. I’ve attended ASHA’s national convention for four years now, but this was my first HCBI and as I write this blog on Sunday night, I’m 100 percent certain it won’t be my last.

As I reflect on the conference and the three days that flew by here are some things that left an impression:

1. No overflow rooms to worry about! While I love the hustle and bustle of the national convention, the smaller size and more focused topic tracks at HCBI left me feeling like I had soaked in a lot more knowledge, and with ideas I could implement come Monday morning. Sessions were the right size, allowing speakers to delve deep, cover research and practice, while still leaving time for questions. It also allowed for more personal interactions with names you probably only read in journals and textbooks before, and opportunities for new friendships because you sat with many of the same clinicians from one session to another. Many sessions were a two-part series which helped broaden the knowledge base, and you could really immerse yourself into a topic if you so wished. I’ve been talking about topic tracks for years and was so excited to finally experience it at HCBI. I wasn’t running around between sessions trying get a piece here and a piece there and oh look! Three sessions I want to go to are all the same time. Nope! Not at HCBI.

2. Take risks and know you’re supported! After waiting anxiously to hear if my submission was accepted, I was ecstatic to read the poster acceptance email. And just as quickly, I became nervous! I’m presenting a poster at a conference full of highly experienced researchers and clinicians! What if I mess up? The experience was quite the opposite. Clinicians of varied experience levels stopped by, asked questions, appreciated the work my colleague and I had done, and even discussed future collaborations. I was thrilled when a presenter stopped by and asked if she could use the information in her class! This was the experience of a lifetime! Presenting to a more focused audience wasn’t as intimidating after all – we were in this together, trying to make a difference in areas we were all passionate about. Having only 11 posters was a great way to spend quality time reading, assimilating and asking questions.

3. There’s more to the conference than meets the eye! Yes, there’s information to learn and CEUs to earn, but for me, no conference is complete without the behind-the-scenes activities. Since I was local, I reached out to the SIG 13 volunteer coordinator to see if there was anything I could help with. Through a series of events, I ended up introducing some speakers and writing this blog post! I’ve been meaning to rekindle my love for blogging and, let’s be honest … never made time for it. Thanks to HCBI I may actually achieve that goal after all! I’ve also been trying to initiate the Board Certified Specialist in Swallowing application process and was seeking out a mentor. Serendipitously, the speaker I introduced was the very same person I was hoping to connect with. Within moments the wheels were set into motion and my journey has begun. You never know what doors can open unless you knock, and conferences are the perfect opportunity to get more involved in our profession.

Special mentions: No conference blog would be complete without a shout-out to my #slpeeps family! From my first convention in San Diego till lunch this afternoon, there was never a moment when I felt like there wasn’t someone to talk to, someone to discuss successes and challenges with, enjoy a meal or happy hour with …. the value of social media and how small and connected it makes our world! Conferences like this are like family reunions. As much as I love everything I learned about exercise-based dysphagia treatments, pediatric gastroesophageal reflux, managing emotions and interpersonal relationships, and all the ideas that sparked this weekend, the conference would not be the same without these social connections that comfort, support and inspire!

Here’s to more bright ideas … more sparks of knowledge … more creative collaborations! See you in Minneapolis for #HCBI16. Until then, shine on!

Ramya Kumar, MS, CCC-SLP, is a hospital-based speech-language pathologist specializing in pediatric feeding and swallowing disorders. She also works in adult acute-care settings. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders. Follow her on Twitter at @thatspeechy.

Why Aren’t You at ASHA Schools 2015?

We chatted with seven enthusiastic attendees at #Schools15 about why they’re here and what they hope to take home.

See what they say about how Schools rocks! Here’s a hint: “It’s intimate.”  “I’m always surprised at how much information I’m able to take back and put into use right away!”  “I enjoy the networking!”

Free Custom Hearing Protection for Professional Musicians


Musicians performing at the Bonnaroo and CMA music festivals near Nashville—both of which begin tomorrow—will receive free custom ear plugs that allow them to hear the notes clearly just at a lower volume. The plugs normally cost around $200 a pair.

The Vanderbilt Audiology Clinic and MusiCares sponsor the program, now in its second year at Bonnaroo. In addition to fitting them with custom plugs, audiologists from Vanderbilt educate the musicians on how important it is to protect their hearing. They also teach them about long-term effects of not wearing ear plugs.

Read more about the free hearing protection program.

5 Ways to Raise Awareness of Our Professions for Better Hearing and Speech


I will always be thankful for a young communication sciences and disorders (CSD) student who propelled me into my chosen career. Like many undergraduates, I spent part of my early college experience in a major that didn’t end up a “good fit.” At the moment I (finally) realized it wasn’t for me, I didn’t have a major to replace it. Fortunately, an acquaintance nudged me in the direction of speech-language pathology. Years later, there still hasn’t been a day I regretted my career choice.

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. I enjoy seeing the creative things that our colleagues do to promote better communication. This month is also a great opportunity to promote the professions themselves! As ASHA’s membership grows, our ability to respond to communication disorders becomes stronger. This is particularly true as our professions grow in diversity and include a greater variety of perspectives. For this reason, one of the objectives listed in ASHA’s Strategic Pathway to Excellence is to increase the diversity of the association’s membership.

So what can we do to help people become interested in CSD? Many of us work right where these future professionals spend most of their day. Audiologists and speech-language pathologists working in schools enjoy prime opportunities to raise awareness. Those working in clinical or university settings also frequently encounter students, colleagues and even clients seeking advice about their future.

Here are a few ideas for making the most of opportunities for promoting our professions in our work settings:

  • Incorporate a discussion into an intervention activity. “What I want to be when I grow up,” for example, contains a lot of language skills for school-age kids.
  • Volunteer to give a guest presentation on acoustics in your school’s physics class, or on anatomy or physiology in your school’s biology class.
  • Organize or participate in a school career day or university career fair.
  • Relate your field to other activities! I’ve discussed language concepts needed for arithmetic at a school Math Night. AAC and audiometry are great topics for technology fairs.
  • Share information with your school’s guidance counselor or university career center.

ASHA also provides resources for helping us develop a discussion or presentation. These include:

May is a great time to focus on the future of communication sciences and disorders. As we raise awareness of the professions themselves—particularly among individuals from underrepresented communities—we invest in a stronger, more diverse ASHA and many Better Hearing and Speech Months to come.


Nate Cornish, MS, CCC-SLP, is a bilingual (English/Spanish) clinician and clinical director for VocoVision and Bilingual Therapies.  He is the professional development manager for ASHA Special Interest Group 18, Telepractice; a member of ASHA’s Multicultural Issues Board; and a past president of ASHA’s Hispanic Caucus. Cornish provides clinical support to monolingual and bilingual telepractitioners around the country. He also organizes and presents at various continuing education events, including an annual symposium on bilingualism.  Nathan.Cornish@Bilingualtherapies.com