During a visit to the ASHA National Office last March, ASHA’s Federal Advocacy team asked me if I would talk to my members of the U.S. Congress about legislative issues affecting our professions. I said yes.
I made appointments with an aide to Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana), but got an appointment directly with Rep. Clay Higgins (R-Louisiana). Higgins was an incoming freshman, so I actually thought his staff made a mistake when they said he would meet with me in person. I showed up as scheduled and, to my surprise, I met face-to-face with my congressional representative.
When I arrived, his staff showed me into the representative’s office, where we got right down to business. He first asked me who I was representing. I explained to him that I’m a professor of speech-language pathology at a state university in his district, so I am unable to lobby on behalf of the university. I was there representing my fellow audiologists and SLPs through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
“So you’re a speech pathologist. Well, let me tell you about my experience with speech pathologists,” Higgins replied.
He then shared his story. When he was young, he stuttered quite severely and was terrified to read aloud throughout first and second grade. He said his teacher would hit him with a yardstick if he stuttered. He soon developed a strong fear of possibly stuttering, and eventually even communicating, as a result. He fast-forwarded to a time when his parents contacted an SLP who helped him overcome these challenges.
I replied that my specialty was in stuttering, and described the success of the doctoral program in his home district at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. I also let him know the master’s degree program in communication sciences and disorders is the most competitive graduate program on the entire campus.
I also shared details about our local National Stuttering Association self-help group, and explained how he could potentially change the lives of these young people who stuttered. This opportunity intrigued him, and he asked if he could come to campus and speak to our students.
Working with the congressman’s scheduler and the university administration, I arranged a meeting in October to coincide with International Stuttering Awareness month.
Higgins visited the University of Louisiana-Lafayette on Oct. 16, 2017. He met with about 100 speech-language pathology students. And he told his story of how an SLP helped him become the communicator he is today. After this discussion, our NSSLHA chapter president, Patricia Jimenez-Arias, presented the congressman with a token of appreciation from the student organization.
Later that day, Higgins met with the Lafayette chapter of the National Stuttering Association, where he shared his story of growing up and stuttering in class. The children, teens, parents and siblings of the group enjoyed hearing his encouraging words.
What I would like to share with other ASHA members is this: Take the time to communicate with your elected officials. In these times of political turbulence, making a personal connection can yield a positive result. Although our political views might vary greatly, we just might connect on a human level.
This is exactly what happened during my visit to Capitol Hill last spring.
John A. Tetnowski, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-F, is the Ben Blanco Endowed Professor of Communicative Disorders at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, and the graduate coordinator of the doctoral program in applied language and speech sciences. Tetnowski has treated people who stutter for more than 25 years and authored more than 70 publications, primarily in the areas of fluency disorders and research designs. He serves as associate coordinator for ASHA Special Interest Group 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders. firstname.lastname@example.org