I decided to do something a little bit different for this posting of my blog, and attempt something I have never done before. As a person who stutters and one who considers it a disability, I wanted to send a very special letter to the current President of the United States, who launched a directive to have federal agencies increase hiring of people with disabilities. This is perhaps the greatest piece of writing I will ever do in my life.
Thanks for letting me share.
Re: Disability rights initiative
Dear President Obama:
My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a 32-year old man writing to you from the suburbs of Long Island, New York. It is with great respect and honor that I have the opportunity to contact you as one of the many fellow Americans who turn to you for leadership and guidance. I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of letters you receive are related to health care and the economy. But my letter is something unique because it is not about those concerns at all. In fact, my letter is something I am very passionate about: disability rights.
While I do struggle with characteristics of Asperger's, that is not the biggest challenge I have faced in my life. Ever since age three, I have stuttered. My stuttering has been classified as mild-to moderate. On some days I can maintain a rate of being 80 percent fluent, yet on others, I will struggle mightily. It often ebbs and flows, and I accept the fact that I will always have good days and bad days. Growing up as a young man through high school and college was perhaps some of the most trying times in life, facing consistent teasing and bullying, almost driving me to the point of suicide. When you try to walk up to someone and start a conversation, it can be the most daunting task of all. You don't feel bad because you stutter, you feel bad for the person who has to hear it. All of a sudden, you feel like the petri dish under the microscope, and all the scrutiny focuses directly at you.
There are many misconceptions about stuttering out there, and unfortunately, those are what the world chooses to see. The worst kinds of examples you can see are Michael Palin's character in "A Fish Called Wanda," or Porky Pig doing his infamous "Th-th-th-that's all ffffolks" routine. In the past thirty years, we have risen above that and have seen many people use their stuttering to bring about sweeping changes today. Your colleague, Vice-President Joe Biden, has spoken about his stuttering publically in various interviews. Congressman Frank Wolf of West Virginia was also a person who stutters. James Earl Jones, one of the greatest actors in America, had a severe stutter, as did Marilyn Monroe, whose image as a sex symbol still stands with her many years after her death. Winston Churchill, the former prime minister of England stuttered and is known as one of the greatest orators of his day.
Many presidents (former as well) have stressed throughout their time in office that the greatest act of courage an American citizen can do is to volunteer and support local services that benefit others. For the longest time I was angry and hurting, and gave those feelings a voice by getting involved with an organization that changed my life: the National Stuttering Association. Headquartered in New York City, we are a strictly volunteer-driven, and our goal to reach out and help educate and empower children, teens, and adults who stutter. Our annual conferences are very close to breaking the 700-800 mark, and for four days we come together to celebrate everything that stuttering is, and what it can be. It is truly a very special and poignant time in everyone's life where we can all say that in this crazy world we live in, that we are strong. We are powerful, and most importantly, we can make a difference. We have members who stutter who are doctors, lawyers, and most proudly, speech pathologists. Once again, when he was a state senator from Delaware, Mr. Biden addressed our attendees at our conference held in Baltimore. I am the Long Island chapter leader, and have been so for three years now. It is the greatest honor I will ever have in my life, and I am humbled at being given the chance to lead and help others in my position.
There is no denying that stuttering does play a significant role in job-searching. For many people who stutter, they sacrifice chances to obtain meaningful employment to work at a menial position because of their guilt and shame. There are many people who would love to study higher education and start pursuing professional employment, but are truly frightened by what their speech might do to them. For the longest time, I was like that. I am very proud that I stutter and my work with the NSA is features prominently on my resume. Many employers are reluctant to hire a person who stutters because they are fearful of their abilities to have good communication skills. But I can say emphatically that there is a major difference. Do not the confuse to speak with the ability to communicate. There is absolutely no problem with being a person who stutters and one who communicates effectively.
As per an executive order issued directly by you, you had ordered all federal agencies to increase their hiring for people with disabilities. You have leveled the playing field to give people with disabilities a good chance to find work in the federal government. I have applied for numerous jobs under the Schedule A Hiring Authority, and will continue to do so. I am going to work for the federal government someday.
Sometimes you may wonder at the end of the work day if your policies will have a significant impact. Well, I can say this one resonated with me and others who have disabilities. I know stuttering is just one-there are others who have far worse disabilities than I have-paralysis, deafness, and so on. But together we are all equal. We all have the right to work and be productive. Most importantly, we have the right to be understood and to be treated as a person without labels or stereotypes. I am not a stutterer. I am, and always will be, a person who stutters.
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, President Obama. I understand you get more than 20,000 letters and can only respond to a select few. But I am a firm believer that a revolution of change can start with one person. I'm doing my part, and you are doing yours too to help make this world a better place for people with disabilities.
Good luck with your presidency and continued success to you always.