Sunday, August 22, 2010

Friendly's, and a blind woman who inspires......

Good evening everyone,

During the course of the work week, there's often a time and place that we like to go to relax and capture a few precious moments to ourselves. Every Wednesday I go to speech therapy with a private SLP who works out of his home. While the trip is an hour by car because he is all the way south of where I live, I relish the chance to make the drive and inhale the ocean air, walk by the marina, and get a bite to eat before I go see him. We all have a favorite restaurant, a special server who knows us by name, greets us heartily with a smile, and knows exactly what we want. That's why before speech therapy, I'll always stop by the local Friendly's, see Vanna, and bring a copy of the New York Post with me to unwind. Although the New York Post is nowhere on the same wavelength as, say, The Washington Post, I enjoy their sports section very much and catching up on what's going on is a nice midweek break for me. (Although this is the biggest different between the newspapers: On page three of the Washington Post, there'll be an in-depth article about Pres. Obama's new initiative, and on page three of the New York Post will be a story about how Snooki from "Jersey Shore" got arrested.

But this past Wednesday (Aug. 18), there happened to be a rare article that definitely got my attention. I always am on the lookout for stories about people with disabilities who make the world a better place because of hoe they adapt to it, and there happened to be one that I couldn't stop reading. This past week was designated "HOPE Week" by the New York Yankees. The acronym HOPE refers to Helping Others Persevere and Excel, and each day, will profile five individuals (or organizations) that make a difference in the community. Last year, for example, there was a special open-air carnival held after a night game for children suffering from Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a very rare skin disorder that prevents people who have it from going out in the daylight...if they were to do so, they can receive severe UV burns or eye/skin cancer. The families were invited to participate, as well as Yankees players who helped the children with some of the games.

This story I read was about Jane Lang, a 67-year old woman from Morris Plains, N.J. (western suburbs of New York, on the North Jersey side). She is blind and manages daily with the help of her guide dog, Clipper. She was shocked to find on her doorstep one day, was manager Joe Girardi, Joba Chamberlain, Chad Gaudin, ex-great Tino Martinez, and David Robertson, who wanted to escort her to the game. And as I was reading the feature, one quote stopped me. "I don't think I miss much. I have an advantage. Because everyone looks the same to me, I don't prejudge." According to the New York Daily News, who did a similar feature, they mentioned how when riding the subway to the game, she would have eight candies with her, and move one from one pocket to the other, to help her know when to exit.

As a person who stutters, it's undeniable that we will all go through the rollercoaster of emotions. Sometimes it doesn't hit us until later in life, when we go through the trials and tribulations of adolescence and college, or when we want to find a spouse. We often ask "Why me? Why did I have to stutter?" "Why couldn't I have something else to deal with?" In high school and college, which were some of the most trying times in my life, I often asked myself these questions. I would often wish to trade my disabilities for someone else's.
We've all heard the put-downs and the mimicking. It was at times like that I wished I was deaf, or blind so I wouldn't have to see what others said or thought about me. But little did I know how resilient I could be. And I realized having a speech impediment isn't the worst thing in the world. Does it create challenges for me? Of course, and there will always be more to face. That's why my involvement in the National Stuttering Association ( is so critically important to me. I want to give back, but most importantly, I need to. It gives me tremendous power and joy to know I can make a difference and help others.

Regardless of whether your stutter is mild or severe, it can be so scary to think about the future and not imagine yourself in it. But you are someone to this world. You have gifts to share with this world, and make sure you do so. Don't let yourself miss out on making this planet just a little brighter.

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting ready to switch modes...but don't allow your fears to stop you, ever!

Good afternoon everyone! It's almost the middle of August, and despite the fact that depending on where you live it can be sweltering, there's no denying that some people have already accepted the fact that summer is rapidly coming to an end, and the mode has shifted from beach fun to classroom academics. School will be starting in a few weeks, and soon students everywhere will be floating amidst papers, Facebook friend requests, and getting adjusted to new teachers and their instructing styles. I work with many kids right now who are in high school and college, and some are getting ready to go on to their higher education. A few already started, and their pursuits have taken them to numerous parts of New York State. Some of them travel far (to Potsdam, about an hour or less from the Canada border), and closer to home, but still a good few hours away (like Albany). And there are some who will attend classes at the local community college, and work while they set their sights high with regard to choosing a good transfer school. I stayed home and attended classes at Nassau Community College. Although I wasn't a big fan of it, I had to admit that my time there was very instrumental in learning what it is like to tap into a gift and give back to this world. I always felt a twinge of resentment at times when I saw my older brother go away to college. He went to York, Pennsylvania, and had a great time there. I felt so sad walking around his dorm room and the residence hall and wondering why he could enjoy that, and I couldn't. And my parents' response was the same: "Because he's not you, and you're not him." In many ways, that response was a catalyst for me to adjust my thinking about how I saw myself and my stuttering. We all know that stuttering isn't easy for anyone to talk about, and many parents often feel shame and embarrassment when talking about touchy topics. My brother has reluctantly accepted that the NSA is "my thing," but doesn't want to go into anything beyond that. I've accepted that I am my own person, and I can make a great impact on helping others. Recently I had the chance to read an article on where I was interviewed about my stuttering by a graduate student working at NYU who stutters as well. I wholeheartedly encouraged him to get involved with the NSA and allow him to see that stuttering is nothing to be ashamed of. But after the article, I realized that he is still feeling a great deal of negativity. I relate to him all too well, because I was there. As a chapter leader for the NSA and an advocate for those who stutter, I want everyone to know I have no agenda but my own personal feelings and goals for what I want to accomplish. I have lived my life with the shame and isolation that stuttering can bring. I don't want anyone else to ever feel that way again, and that is why I am pledging to continue promoting the National Stuttering Association annual conference as a necessity for everyone who stutters. Just go to one, and experience it. Do not let the fear of stuttering allow you to miss out on the best rewards in life! My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.