Why I work in marketing and communications
For Shakeel Suleman, having a stammer is a real disadvantage, yet one that has opened up other ways to communicate.
For me, not being able to say what I want has been the most frustrating thing in my life. It has affected my very being. I have a lot to say. I am very articulate. Writing is like a process of catharsis. I have had to sharpen my writing skills to compensate for the lack of speaking skills. I am glad that I have these writing skills.
It may appear ironic that, despite a stammer and all the disadvantages it brings, all my jobs since graduation have been in marketing and communications departments in the private and public sectors. I put this down to my writing skills. Whether writing product brochures, web content or community information leaflets, I have used writing as a way into a field which very often would not be open to anyone with a severe stammer.
It has certainly not been easy. I had to endure months of joblessness after graduation. However, I kept writing - writing for pleasure. This allowed me to retain my sanity; it was therapeutic. It also allowed me, a stammerer with little work experience, to build up evidence of my abilities.
It is not always possible to ignore what I do not have and concentrate on what I am good at. Some situations bring home the stammer, whether it's difficult job interviews or ordering a meal in a busy take-away. Nevertheless, the ability to write has been more useful for me, someone who has a lot to say, than speech therapy.
Having a severe stammer can feel extremely disempowering. The feeling of powerlessness stems from being unable to say what we really want to say or to express our true feelings. People with speech problems devise a coping strategy, for example by using words with a particular type of sound which can be uttered with less hindrance. This limits our scope for expression. Our coping mechanism may hide the true extent of our speech problem, but may also give the impression of being inarticulate, unable to string together a coherent sentence together.
'writing allowed me, with little work experience, to build up evidence of my abilities'
This self-imposed limitation of expression has practical consequences. At restaurants or take-aways, for example, I sometimes end up with ordering something that is second best but is easier to pronounce. Sometimes I end up with the wrong thing because I am reluctant to correct misunderstandings. In other contexts, I can give the impression of being unsocial, uncaring, cold or plain weird. It might be that I am all of these - the stammer has conditioned my personality. I go out of my way to avoid arguments. Again, this can be disempowering. It means avoiding arguments even if I know I am right.
Job interviews are particularly gruelling experiences. Sometimes interviewers are taken aback, surprised, even embarrassed. Some hide it well; others try to pre-empt the word I am trying to say and say it for me. Whatever the reason, I am convinced that having a stammer puts me at a disadvantage. For most office-based jobs, 'excellent verbal skills' is an essential requirement. Whatever the policy about equal opportunities, I am sure the type of disability you have does matter. You could be in a wheel chair, but still be a confident orator. The gift of the gab can get you far...
From the Spring 2005 edition of Speaking Out
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