A Reason to Celebrate

The hotel lobby was visible from the second floor, as was the loading and unloading zone outside.

As I got off the elevator, I stood there in awe as I watched a gentleman I’d met earlier in the day get on a small shuttle bus. He proudly stood on the wheelchair lift with the aid of a set of crutches with arm braces.

Leaning on the guard rail, I watched with admiration as he struggled to make his way onto and through the bus. To say it was a slow process is an understatement.

Why wouldn’t he just use a wheelchair? It would be less taxing, not to mention less time consuming. I can be lazy, so I know how I would’ve rolled.

This gentleman was challenged by the simplest of tasks that most of us often take for granted, yet instead of taking the easier way out, he faced his challenge head on and accomplished his mission.

It was quite inspiring to watch.

Patiently awaiting the return of the lift, a young lady in a wheelchair was fully engaged in conversation with the bus driver and displayed a beautiful smile in doing so.

She wasn’t sighing. She wasn’t rolling her eyes. She wasn’t looking at her watch. She was waiting, patiently.

You see, I was there to serve as the host of a celebration for the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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This was my second year emceeing the celebration, which is hosted by the Center for Independent Living Gulf Coast each year in Ft. Myers, Florida.

The event was attended by a wide range of people, including those with physical and mental disabilities. There was even an Alabama fan present.

The center’s mission is to empower people with disabilities. They help them acquire skills, find services, housing, transportation, employment and physical access to public and private facilities as a means to increase their quality of life.

Upon my arrival, many remembered me from last year, so handshakes and hugs were in order.

The event empowered me to do something that I never do. I left my comfort zone along the wall and stepped out onto the dance floor. It wasn’t Kool & the Gang or the Village People who inspired me to do so; it was the folks at the celebration who were there celebrating opportunity and life and encouraging others to do the same.

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There were many highlights for me throughout the day, but one of them stands out for obvious reasons.

A lady, who identified herself as a teacher, said she’d never thought of stuttering as a disability until hearing my presentation. I explained to her that for people like me, it’s not; however, for others it most certainly is.

I love having the opportunity to educate people on stuttering.

In my opinion, it depends on the severity. For example, does someone with a slight limp have a disability or does he or she just have a slight limp? At this point in my life, I only have a slight limp.

But I digress; there were other highlights.

The gentleman who set his walker aside in order to play the air guitar to the sweet sounds of AC/DC was a highlight, as was the federal judge who’s been in a wheelchair since 1989. He didn’t go to law school until after his accident.

My friend is in air guitar heaven. This is a must see.

Then there was the race car driver who lost his vision after an accident. He was such an interesting man. I know they don’t want pity, but, be that as it may, I sincerely felt pity for him, but not because of his visual impairment. Nope, it’s because he was a graduate of the University of Alabama.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with my new friends and can’t wait to celebrate with them again next year.

I’ll probably even do a little more dancing, because whether it’s activities, food, or people, life is much more interesting and rewarding when you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone, and for me, that’s reason to celebrate.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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Imagine…Reflections on the National Stuttering Association’s annual conference

As one can imagine, joining the military and deploying to Iraq on three different occasions has had a profound impact on my life that I oftentimes have trouble putting into words.

The same can be said for joining the National Stuttering Association (NSA) followed by my attendance at the last three annual conferences, the most recent being last week’s conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

This year’s conference featured inspiring keynotes from fellow stutterers Katherine Preston, author of Out with It, and NFL cornerback Trumaine McBride of the New York Giants.

Additionally, Morgan Lott previewed his new film, “This is Stuttering.”

It’s a four day conference. For any other group, it would likely be just two days, but I’m so thankful to be able to spend that extra time with so many amazing people.

Until recently, I referred to my fellow NSA members as my “stuttering” friends, which was a mistake on my part. They are awesome friends with whom I share a special bond who just happen to stutter.

My friend, Daniel, from Canada.

My friend, Daniele, from Canada.

My friend, Christine, from Indiana.

My friend, Christine, from Indiana.

I’m sure by the end of the National Pickling Convention that most people are just ready to go home, but it’s not like that with us. We truly hate saying goodbye.

I have a circle of friends there who inspire and motivate me throughout the year, and each year, that circle grows.

Make no mistake about it; the convention is not a pity party. On the contrary, it’s a fun and inspiring celebration filled with education, awareness, acceptance and empowerment.

Because of my upbringing and military service, I’ve always been a “suck it up and drive on” kind of guy, but by attending the NSA conferences, my eyes have opened up to see the challenges that many of my brothers and sisters face each and every day.

I’m always amazed at the attendees who assert to have never met another person who stutters prior to attending a conference. Imagine the shock and awe.

Growing up, I knew two other kids who stuttered, not to mention my brother and Bo Jackson.

Although I’d met countless stutterers throughout the years, I, too, was in shock and awe when I attended my first conference in Ft. Worth in 2011. Can you imagine a conference where close to 850 attendees talked like me?

Well, I need to be a little clearer about that. None of them talked like me. You see, a person’s stutter is as unique as a fingerprint or snowflake, as no two are alike.

Only 1% of the population stutters, so there’s a chance that I am the only one that some of you know and you might be saying to yourself that it’s not much of an affliction. Well, for me, at this point in my life, it’s not that big of a deal, although I still face many challenges. For others, however, it remains a very big deal.

Imagine not being able to say a loved one’s name.

Imagine not being able to order what you want at a restaurant.

We know that clear and concise communication is essential in most lines of work, so imagine being a super intelligent person and not being able to get your words out in an articulate manner.

For some of you, that’s hard to imagine.

Some stutter, stumble, or stammer on every word, whereas others speak fluently for two minutes straight and then get “stuck” for the next solid minute.

It’s not always a pretty sight.

Some close their eyes, stick out their tongue, or make seemingly exaggerated facial expressions, while others slobber and punch themselves in the leg trying to get the words to flow.

When I was in junior high school, I went through a phase where I stuttered so badly I had to literally beat the words out of myself. Oftentimes, I’d have bruises on my right hip and upper thigh. When having to read aloud during class, I’d often beat the underside of the desk. It was all good until I started beating my friends on their arms and shoulders during conversation.

My friends shied away from me and I really can’t blame them. Who wants to get beat up during a friendly conversation?

It’s tough being a stuttering kid.

In fact, it’s tough being a person who stutters, period, which is why the NSA is so vital.

The NSA is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing hope and empowerment to children and adults who stutter, their families, and professionals through support, education, advocacy, and research.

The NSA helps to empower awesome kids like my buddy Nate.

The NSA and its members help to empower awesome kids like my buddy Nate from Arizona.

Next year’s conference will be held from July 2-6 in Washington DC.

I get to do some pretty cool things throughout the year, but I’m here to tell you that the convention is always the highlight of my year. It blows me away each time. If you stutter, I highly encourage you and your family members to attend.

Speech-language pathologists are also highly encouraged to attend. Not only is it beneficial from a personal stand point, but it also qualifies as continuing education.

The beautiful and “normal” Marilyn Munster lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane along with Frankenstein, two vampires, and a werewolf, and she was the person who was considered odd by the rest of her family. The same can be said for fluent speakers who attend the NSA conference, but just like Marilyn, we welcome them in and treat them like family.

Please join us in 2014. You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll leave there a different person.

The possibilities are endless.

Imagine.

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Find out more information about the National Stuttering Association at http://www.westutter.org.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.