‘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.

‘Listen,’ Was a Main Message at ASHA’s Health Care/Business Institute

man listening


If speech-language pathologists at the Health Care/Business Institute took home just one lesson from the three days chock-full of advice about practice, leadership and business management, it would have to be that simple message.

Listen: to your clients and patients, to their family members, to potential clients, to colleagues. In session after session, presenters underscored the importance of nonjudgmental, focused listening.
Opening plenary speaker Dave Isay, creator of StoryCorps, didn’t have to tell conference attendees how important listening is—he showed them, playing audio tapes of a handful of StoryCorps’ 60,000-plus recorded conversations between everyday people.

But his message was clear: You discover the wisdom, poetry and grace of people when you listen to their stories. (Tomorrow’s blog post will further explore his presentation, “Connecting Through Stories: StoryCorps and You.”)

In a pre-conference workshop on Internet success for businesses, Ria Godoy of Online Internet Results also focused on listening when you build a website. She cautioned against loading a website with information you want prospective customers to know. Instead, she suggested writing information from the client’s point of view: What do prospective clients want to know? What are the 20 most common questions people have about your practice?

“When you know too much about your service, you can’t know what information users will find useful” unless you ask them and listen to their answers, she says.

Jacqueline Hinckley, of Choose Quality LLC, emphasized the client’s priorities in treatment for aphasia. “What does the person with aphasia want to do?” she asked. Clinicians can help clients gain the ability to carry out the activities most important to them. By listening to what the client wants—ordering food in a restaurant or talking about politics with friends, for example—the SLP can make the most of treatment time.

SLP Paula Leslie of the University of Pittsburgh and nurse Maria DePasquale of Community LIFE echoed the importance of listening to a client’s wishes in their session on ethical decision-making in feeding issues. Even though Leslie says the appropriate question to ask is simple—“How can we make your life better?”—listening to the answer can be hard. “Silence is difficult,” she said. “It can make us uncomfortable.” But care providers have a responsibility to “shut down their internal jabbering” and listen, and even to elicit more questions from patients and their families.

And Juan-Jose Beunza, a physician with the Universidad Europea in Spain, addressed the importance of listening in his plenary session, “Interprofessional Practice: Managing Emotions and Interpersonal Communication.” On successful interprofessional teams, he says, team members demonstrate their regard for one another by listening.

Listening involves giving silence, “not at your comfort level, but at the level of others,” Beunza said. It also includes internal silence, “shutting down your own prejudices,” and asking open questions that don’t involve solutions or carry judgment.

And when you find the value in others through listening, he said, be sure to express it.


Carol Polovoy is managing editor of The ASHA Leader. cpolovoy@asha.org

Mobile Tools and Apps to Treat Executive Function


Executive function—it’s such an elusive, abstract term for such necessary everyday skills. And it’s such an area of difficulty for so many of our clients. Activities like planning dinner, resolving a problem with a friend, and finding the most efficient route to work all require executive-function skills.

Helping clients develop these crucial skills allows them to function better day-to-day, and smart phones and tablets can support this teaching between sessions. Looking to harness technology for both compensatory and rehabilitative purposes? These four apps work for me!

  • Alarms and Calendars
    Help clients set an alarm to, for example, take medication or start their homework, or input events into a calendar. That teaches them to plan and create routine. They develop the ability to see a solution to a problem and bolster their memory. Similarly, use calendars to engage compensatory strategies and executive function skills—like planning—by discussing how many minutes or days before an appointment they might need a reminder in order to fully prepare.
  • List Apps
    Apple now has a built-in “reminders” app, which translates across Apple products. Another favorite list app of mine is Wunderlist, which allows you to create multiple checklists, so you can check off completed tasks while keeping tasks organized, another key executive function skill.

Check out more apps for supporting executive function in The Leader’s May 2015 issue.


  • Maps
    I love to use mapping apps in the most functional way possible. Prompts such as: “Find the nearest place to get coffee” or “What is the quickest way to get to the drug store?” simultaneously exercise multiple executive function skills.
  • Rehabilitative Apps:
    • In the clinic – I love the Verbal Reasoning app from Virtual Speech Apps. It instigates conversations about problems and solutions, offers flexible cues, and works for adult clients. It also includes other reasoning skills such as answering negative and why questions.
    • At homeConstant Therapy makes assigning homework to clients easy; clinicians select tasks and clients perform them on their own smart phones or tablets. The app also provides a great executive function task with its Instruction Sequencing feature. This prompts clients to sequence steps for everyday activities.

This list only scratches the surface of potential technology uses for treating executive function issues. Share ways that you use technology to train executive function in the comments section below.


Jordyn Sims, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist working in the Boston area. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders; and 15, Gerontology. Sims has experience with adults and children and is a clinical consultant for Constant Therapy. jordyn.sims@gmail.com 

Summer Postcards for Social and Language Skills


As the school year winds down, parents often ask me for easy summer activities to support goals we’ve been addressing all year. Some of my favorite tips involve postcards.

Dear Me

Writing a daily postcard each night of vacation builds sequencing skills (or grammar or vocab or any expressive language skill). I ask families to come up with three to four activities they did that day or three to four elements from a big event. Parents may take (verbatim) dictation, but I always ask that the child sign off. I often suggest doing this in a restaurant while waiting for food to arrive, because family meals are a typical time to discuss what happened that day.

If it’s feasible, I ask parents to mail the postcard home each day. If not, they act as postmaster once home by mailing one a day.

This mail generates a lot of post-vacation excitement. The little one gets mail several days in a row and hears or reads activity sequences again. Kiddos love stories they star in! They are also a great keepsake and less arduous than keeping a travel journal.

I ask parents to bring the postcards in for a couple of sessions once school starts again. They give me and my students something tangible to review and I have a reference point for topics and questioning. They also provide a great starting point for class projects on “what I did on my summer vacation.” Our students appreciate the memory boost for generating detailed, sequential information about events that happened several weeks earlier.

Goal Nudging

I also use postcards to push goals along during the break from our sessions, which is especially important for fluency students.

My student and I come up with five to seven summer goals (with a variety of difficulty). Each goal gets written individually on a postcard (hometown or generic), stamped and addressed to me. As the student completes the goal, they simply sign their name and drop it in the mail. I encourage a sentence or two of feedback, particularly from older students, but I don’t insist. If I don’t receive a postcard within the first month or so of summer break, I send a postcard reminder of my own!

I use these activities with K-12 students, but I think they would adapt easily to adult populations as well.

Kimberly Swon Lewis, ME, CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the author of the ActivityTailor.com blog. kim.lewis@activity.tailor.com



Clinical Aphorisms: Thoughts While Shaving


  1. Evidence-based practice must consider the clinical intangibles: Performance does not guarantee competency.
  1. Do not be afraid of silence—it is your best friend!
  1. The most potent clinical interventions are those that empower the family.
  1. Family-centered is just that: seeing the family as our client.
  1. Not doing is doing: More often than not, it is the most powerful doing.
  1. The most important clinical tool is the clinician: Every so often the “tool” needs a checkup and re-calibration.
  1. Having dependent clients benefits no one.
  1. Covert help is the best help: Miracle workers need not apply.
  1. The clinician’s need to be needed—in conjunction with perceived client helplessness—is a clinical death dance.
  1. Clinical success can best be measured by the degree that the client takes ownership of the disorder.
  1. Operate on the fringes of your competency: If you aren’t a bit scared, you aren’t learning anything.
  1. Communication is best accomplished when we engage both feeling and cognition.
  1. View the client through the eyes of compassion; when you do so, there is no blame.
  1. Listening to the client is often the only thing needed.
  1. Embracing our pain—by expressing it—is often the first step in healing.
  1. The greatest gift we can give our clients is a support group: It’s a powerful healing vehicle.
  1. The difficult client is often our best teacher.
  1. It’s only a mistake if you do it twice—competency is born of mistakes.
  1. Always remember what the Dali Lama said: “Everybody is seeking happiness.” It helps to get through the day.


David M. Luterman, AuD, EdD, is professor emeritus at Emerson College, author of many books on counseling people with hearing impairment and other communication disorders, and director of the Thayer Lindsley Program for Deaf and Hard of hearing Infants and Toddlers at Emerson College. dmluterman@aol.com