Iterators LLC (en-US) Blog 2021-06-24T07:14:47+00:00 Iterators LLC (en-US) PDF Remediation - Making PDFs ADA Compliant 2021-06-03T16:21:00+00:00 2021-06-03T16:28:57+00:00 Jill Willcox ]]> The Rhythm of Finding Work as Women in Tech 2021-03-22T20:10:00+00:00 2021-05-09T00:11:30+00:00 Jill Willcox

Ask yourself, what challenges do you see your co-workers face every day due to a disability? If you’re like many people, you don’t have any frame of reference. The article “Do Your D&I Efforts Include People with Disabilities?” cites a report from the Return On Disability Group that “90% of companies claim to prioritize diversity, [but] only 4% consider disability in those initiatives.” [1]

July 26, 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Passed by Congress and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, the ADA established protections for people with disabilities in employment, government, and publicly funded spaces. [2] The law was designed to help provide access for employment opportunities equal to those for people without disabilities.

“Businesses have long been drivers of social change. Across the globe, companies have begun acknowledging vital challenges and injustices such as climate change and pay gaps. Diversity and inclusion initiatives is one such defining issue, and although huge progress has been made towards equality across boundaries of gender, race and sexual orientation, one aspect of D&I is too often neglected: disability.” [1]

Iterators At Cic

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) is one of the most important and timely topics companies are addressing today. HR departments are actively recruiting diverse talent and companies are hiring DE&I leaders, as well as training managers to build inclusive teams. Iterators LLC has recognized DE&I since its inception. We were founded on the principle that people with diverse backgrounds enhance and strengthen software testing outcomes. Being a women-owned small business (WOSB) presents both advantages and challenges in the technology field. Just as with people in neurodiverse groups, "traditional" companies often perceive women to be either less qualified in this field or to have received special treatment if successful. [3]

We were contacted by the chief information officer for a medium-sized employer in financial services outside of Boston. A complaint was filed because their website and electronic assets were not accessible to individuals with disabilities. As a WOSB, certified by the Department of Homeland Security in Accessibility Section 508 / WCAG, we were thrilled that Iterators’ diversity of testers (women, neurodivergent, and BIPOC employees) would be able to add value to this project. Imagine our surprise after discussing the steps we can take to reduce their risk (due to nonconformance) when asked, “We can use our foundation dollars to pay your fee, right?”

Prior to opening our doors in 2017, we had the diversity of thought that comes from thinking and rethinking about what our goals were in establishing Iterators LLC. We chose a for-profit WOSB because individuals with disabilities should not be limited to finding jobs with nonprofit organizations. As essential as their work is, it leaves the connotation that having a disability prevents success within traditional businesses, the work being less valuable—a charity. “When there's a lack of diversity in the room, critical ideas and opinions can be missed.” [3] We wanted to ensure an equal voice for women.

The law was designed to help provide access for employment opportunities equal to those for people without disabilities United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division

Within the same timeframe, we received a call from an investment management firm, Loomis, Sayles & Company. They saw an article about Iterators LLC in The Boston Globe and called us to discuss a data analysis project. [4] In casual conversation, they volunteered they had tried to hire someone to complete this work but added “they all want to work for Google.” We were thrilled to take on this work and have been completing this weekly analysis for the last three years. We receive data files every Saturday and complete the analysis on Sunday. Initially, this was a manual project, but we automated the process using Python once we found we had a stable environment. Automating this project was beneficial should the client ever need to increase the analysis from weekly to daily as an example. It takes about four hours for the program to run, with a report generated when the data analysis is done.

Our client writes: “In order to effectively support our ever-evolving business needs, we have to be agile in our data transformation and software development efforts. Having a partner like Iterators helps us ensure that our weekly software releases are producing accurate, consistent results and is extremely valuable. Thank you, Iterators, for your commitment to neurodiversity and your commitment to providing valuable services to firms in the Boston area.”

Img Cic 14Th

Going back to our conversation with the chief information officer, when asked, “We can use our foundation dollars to pay your fee, right?” we responded that our fees cannot be paid through a nonprofit or foundation. Foundations must meet or exceed spending at least some of their assets on charitable purposes, and we are not a charity. We never did complete any work for this potential client.

I’m often asked as a WOSB owner and employer by competitors if we get all our work from “set-asides,” and I perceive our work is being discounted, undervalued. [4] When asked “We can use our foundation dollars to pay your fee, right?” I feel the same way I felt when asked if all our work comes from set-asides. A better question would be: Why don’t companies employ more WOSBs and women to gain a diversity of thought while positively impacting their bottom line by hiring people with disabilities?

1. Casey, Caroline. “Do Your D&I Efforts Include People with Disabilities?” Harvard Business Review. 19 March 2020. Accessed 19 March 2021.

2. United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Introduction to the ADA. Accessed 19 March 2021.

3. Willcox, Jill. “The Good That Comes With Women in Tech” Iterators LLC. 5 March 2021. Accessed 19 March 2021.

4. Johnston, Katie. “Companies tap into an underused but highly capable workforce.” 28 November 2018. Accessed 23 March 2021.

]]> Our Wealth of Diversity Reflects Who We Are—Women in Tech 2021-03-08T23:17:00+00:00 2021-05-09T00:12:15+00:00 Jill Willcox

I was reading Lori Gottlieb’s book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed, and she writes about Viktor Frankl. He was a famous Austrian psychiatrist who “went on to study medicine and lecture on the intersection of psychology and philosophy, or what he called logotherapy from the Greek word logos, or ‘meaning.’” [1] Frankl believed finding meaning in life is what drives people even when terrible circumstances arise.

We’ve been fortunate to work with some great clients since opening our doors. “Iterators LLC has recognized DE&I since its inception. We were founded on the principle that people with diverse backgrounds enhance and strengthen software testing outcomes. Being a women-owned small business (WOSB) presents both advantages and challenges in the technology field. Just as with people in neurodiverse groups, "traditional" companies often perceive women to be either less qualified in this field or have received special treatment if successful.” [2]

Ma Conference For Woemn

In 2018, Iterators LLC participated as an exhibitor at the Massachusetts Conference for Women. Our booth was right next to Akamai Technologies and around the corner from Dell and Bose, and we were the only WOSB represented at the conference in technology. There was a representative walking around from Boston College, and as he passed, he casually said, “We need software testing.” Contact information was exchanged and several months later we did get a call about their specific project.

Prior to attending the conference, we had heard many positive things about the conference as a whole. For example, we heard about the quality of the speakers, like Amal Clooney, Esq, who specializes in international law and human rights, and Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love. There were thousands in attendance; many were selling their wares, newly graduated attendees were getting advice on updating their résumés, and others were getting hair and make-up makeovers before taking advantage of the professional head shots being offered. I came away thinking the event was not exactly what I expected and realized I had some initial blind spots.

Changing your mind doesn’t make you a flip-flopper or a hypocrite. It means you were open to learning. [3]

Think Again (Grant, Chapter 5) [3]
Employee at Iterators LLC

Rethinking allowed for greater introspection and the realization that Boston College chose to attend this event, an event for women, because they were looking for talent. Companies would benefit from acknowledging—and acting on—this wealth of diversity by employing more WOSBs and women. When hired by Boston College to test their EagleApps initiative, “a fully modular solution for managing the core business of colleges and universities,” we were thrilled that Iterators' diversity of testers (women, neurodivergent, and BIPOC [black, indigenous, and people of color]) would augment the diversity of thought needed for a large enterprise project like this.[4]

Boston College’s website explains the EagleApps project is “sponsored by the Office of the Provost and Information Technology Services. This multi-year, multi-project effort will result in a next generation suite of flexible applications that will enhance the experience of current and future students, faculty, and administrators.”[5] Before we started actual work on EagleApps, an owner of the project remarked that they originally did not believe outside software testers were necessary, concluding they thought their internal business associates could handle all the testing requirements internally.

Susan Dominus’ article, “Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?” in The New York Times Magazine, quotes Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take: “The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other people’s lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.” [6]

Vishali And Oliver

Our first credo is to be helpful.

The simple statement that the original owners of the project “did not initially believe outside software testers were necessary” was enough motivation for us to be in our element. We completed over 350 new test cases once it was determined that there was insufficient written documentation necessary for validation and compliance. These test plans were created in TestRails QA and had to be changed repeatedly during our participation with EagleApps as new features were added or changed. The way the plans were structured allows for sections to be updated easily to ensure the test plans will not become obsolete. We completed functional, exploratory, and regression testing on the largest module of EagleApps, Curriculum Management Course Offerings (CMCO). We also worked on modules for Academic Calendar, Scheduling, Final Exams, Student Records, and Program and Transcripts to name a few. We used automation to test the project as well. The automation used Selenium and Python to perform end-to-end user testing. However, automation requires a stable enough environment so that the tests don’t have to be constantly updated.

Employee at Iterators LLC

The fact that our testers were often overlooked when seeking employment due to their neurodivergence, which made their motivation to be helpful, and do good work even more significant. Our testers gained a cool self-confidence, that comes from working on such a large, complex, first-of-its-kind project, with memories of our "significant contributions" to EagleApps.

We always work to have positive communications, and this project is no different. Many clients advise they need something by x date but with development cycles being unpredictable, the dates often change. This requires Iterators to rethink how to allocate our resources, and use our time wisely. It also requires flexibility in adjusting to development timelines. Hydrow (formerly True Rowing), another client, summed it up this way: “Their flexibility in assisting us whenever we required help, especially with our release scheduling, is impressive.” [7] We always update teams we work with by both written correspondence and verbal communication. And we always let the team know we are available and will await updates from them. We keep track of all communication as teams are large and not everyone on a team will be aware of the communication offered.

Viktor Frankl wrote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” [1] Adam Grant wrote in Think Again: “The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.” [8]

Rethinking is now our second credo.

[1] Gottlieb, Lori. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2019.

[2] Willcox, Jill. “The Good That Comes With More Women in Tech.” Iterators LLC. 24 February 2021. Accessed 4 March 2021.

[3] Grant, Adam. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. Viking, 2021.

[4] Diaz, Patricia. “DXtera Institute & Boston College Collaborate to Launch the EagleApps Community.” DXtera website. 11 March 2020. DXtera Institute & Boston College Collaborate to Launch the EagleApps Community | DXtera Institute. Accessed 4 March 2021.

[5] Boston College web/offices/its/about/currentprojects/eagleapps.html. Accessed 4 March 2021.

[6] Dominus, Susan. Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?” The New York Times Magazine. 27 March 2013. Accessed 4 March 2021.

[7] Clutch website. Accessed 4 March 2021.

[8] Grant, Adam. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. Viking, 2021.

]]> The Good That Comes With More Women in Tech 2021-02-24T08:00:00+00:00 2021-05-08T23:25:43+00:00 Jill Willcox

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) is one of the most important and timely topics companies are addressing today. HR departments are actively recruiting diverse talent and companies are hiring DE&I leaders, as well as training managers to build inclusive teams. Iterators LLC has recognized DE&I since its inception. We were founded on the principle that people with diverse backgrounds enhance and strengthen software testing outcomes. Being a women-owned small business (WOSB) presents both advantages and challenges in the technology field. Just as with people in neurodiverse groups, "traditional" companies often perceive women to be either less qualified in this field or to have received special treatment if successful.

In October 2020, we were contacted and asked to complete a request for proposal (RFP) for the software testing part of a satellite positioning project for the United States Air Force Air University. It was exciting as the RFP included a WOSB (the federal government's goal is to award five percent or more of contracting dollars to WOSBs annually [1]. Based on our experience, we thought we had a good chance of being awarded the grant.

Women are under-represented in the technology industry. In addition to the opportunity to work on cutting-edge technology for the government, we were thrilled that Iterators' diversity of testers (women, neurodivergent, and BIPOC employees) would augment the diversity of thought needed for a project like this. This diversity could further influence the field in coming years.

When there's a lack of diversity in the room, critical ideas and opinions can be missed. One example of that is, in 2019, information was leaked to The Guardian by an Apple Siri grader who found that “Apple has instructed those working on its Siri digital assistant to design it to ‘deflect’ questions about hot-button issues such as feminism.”[2] Sam Smethers, former chief executive of The Fawcett Society, a UK-based organization advocating for gender equality and women’s rights, said, "The problem with Siri, Alexa and all of these AI tools is that they have been designed by men with a male default in mind…. This won’t change until they recruit significantly more women into the development and design of these technologies.[3]

Only one out of four jobs in the IT industry are held by women, and women in the field earn 29% less than men in the same roles.[4] There are numerous reasons for this, including that women typically undersell themselves and continue to face sexism and challenges when having families in the workplace. Ultimately, this negatively impacts overall performance, as it denies access to a network of individuals with valuable thoughts and experiences.

One of the most impactful advantages of supporting a WOSB is the diversity of thought this additional perspective can bring. Many individuals read the word “advantage” to mean an edge or benefit that is unfair because programs such as WOSBs even exist, as opposed to the diversity of thought being an advantage for diversity, equity, and inclusion. As stated in a Harvard Business Review article titled Research: Small Wins Can Make a Big Impact on Gender Equality, “Many men seem to think sufficient progress has been made and that women now enjoy equal standing and opportunity. Women, on the other hand, still perceive a highly unequal workplace rife with systematic barriers.”[5].

Employee at Iterators LLC

Marketing and advertising firms recognize that women make more decisions regarding the home and products than men and, hence, cater their advertising to women of households as the decision makers. According to Marti Barletta, “Women already buy the majority of products in almost every category. They are responsible for 80% of consumer spending.”[6] Clearly, companies would benefit from acknowledging—and acting on—this wealth of diversity by employing more WOSBs and women to gain different points of view and insights that could positively impact their bottom line.

Employee at Iterators LLC

Going back to the RFP we submitted, we were not awarded the contract. Upon asking for a debrief, we were told all three RFPs submitted were technically acceptable and the company selected gave the best price. Determining who is awarded a grant solely based on the best price is just one example of the challenges of bidding for government contracts, especially when WOSBs and women are under-represented. The RFP defined the cost of the project at $100,000, and while we were under the not-to-exceed estimate, we were unaware the determination would be based solely on price.

I'm often asked as a WOSB owner and employer by competitors if we get all our work from “set-asides”. When I hear that, I perceive our work as being discounted, assuming we are not as good as our competitors, and receive special treatment. Thinking about the concept of small wins, a win might be if competitors cease to ask if our success is due to set-asides and simply say, “well done” when we finally are awarded a grant. And, because we know our worth, we’ll stick with our knitting, on pricing.

[1] Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program (

[2] The Designed-Siri-to-Deflect-Questions-about-feminism

[3] Apple made Siri deflect questions on feminism, leaked papers reveal | Apple | The Guardian

[4] 17+ Women in Technology Statistics to Know in 2020 (


[6] Blog | Marti Barletta | World's Foremost Expert on Today's Mightiest Market – Women

]]> Women in the Workplace: Learning to Unlearn 2021-01-05T15:54:00+00:00 2021-02-24T17:27:17+00:00 Jill Willcox

We spend a lot of time at Iterators LLC working to affect changes when it comes to the causes that are important to us. Often that has to do with neurodiversity and hiring practices, a movement which is near and dear to our hearts.

Today we take the time to turn our focus to another faction of society whose status is still in need of major improvement: and that is women.

Gender inequality in the workplace is a problem that has received more and more attention as time goes on, and yet the fundamental problems seem to be so deeply rooted in society that we have yet to see true equality.

There’s work to be done.

As a female founder, I have seen firsthand the problems we still face as women, especially in the tech field. There are inherent biases when it comes to gender just as there are with neurodiversities.

The difference is, when we talk about people on the spectrum, we are educating others to look past behavioural differences to access the successful worker within. When we are talking about women, it’s more complicated. Rather than looking past a trait, we need people to look within themselves at the biases that have been ingrained since birth about men versus women.

A tall but necessary order.

It almost seems simpler to inform someone in a hiring position that if they come across a candidate who may not make much eye contact or displays tics, to give them a chance to work and then judge them on simply their ability. That scenario can feel more clear cut than the multitude of glass ceilings and subtle (and not so subtle) discrimination that would need to be addressed regarding an entire half of the population.

The good news? Many women in leadership positions in their companies are now hiring other female-run and female-staffed businesses because they are fully aware of the value that they bring to the table. Check out this brief and informative wealth of suggestions to help people Hire More Women In Tech.

Keep talking.

There is no easy solution, that much we know. But we bring this up to increase the conversations happening on the topic. The more we talk about it, the more voices are heard, the more minds are opened, and the more answers we’re able to discover.

]]> Pros to Neuroinclusivity in the Workplace 2019-08-09T21:51:00+00:00 2021-02-24T17:26:14+00:00 Jill Willcox Autism, as most of us know, is a spectrum. Like so many other human traits, the degree to which certain aspects affect each individual can vary immensely. As time rolls on, we are getting better as a society at honoring the many differences we share, and we are slowly but surely working toward deeper respect of all people, regardless of what sets us apart.

According to the CDC, the most recent estimate is 1 out of every 59 babies born in the US have ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). That’s about 17 out of 1000 people.

Since 2000, we have seen a dramatic growth in autism diagnoses. Some worry that there exists a link between vaccines and the development of autism in children, but this fear is utterly unfounded. Instead, this rising “epidemic” is decidedly connected to an increased awareness and understanding of the neurodiversity that has always existed, but for so long went unrecognized and therefore undiagnosed.

Because autism is behavioral and can’t be identified with a simple blood test, it is understandable that it has taken our collective humanity a number of years to begin to fully grasp the range of characteristics associated with the disorder. The prevalence of autism is currently 1 in 42 for boys and 1 in 189 for girls. Scientists are still unsure why there is exists a gender ratio of autism showing up in about five boys for every girl.

What we do know, though, is that there are plenty of ways to embrace unity despite our differences.

At Iterators, we consider ourselves neuroinclusive, and we believe it is important to look beyond typical biases that often occur in hiring. When we conduct interviews, we confidently see past typical autistic or other neurodiverse traits, such as dyslexia or ADHD, that may concern other workplace professionals, because what matters to us is that we find the person who will get the job done in the best, most efficient way.

Also, it’s just science. Studies show that people with ASD are better at focusing on tasks. Temple Grandin said it best:

“What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.”

Temple Grandin

There is so much to be said for working to eliminate hiring bias. Not only will it improve the lives of the many neurodiverse individuals who are unemployed or underemployed, but companies stand to gain strong workers who may lack extended eye-contact, but make up for their social differences with above-average skills and dedication to the job. Another added benefit of diversifying an office by bringing in more people with neurodiversity is the impact it will have on co-workers who might otherwise not come in contact with these individuals in a meaningful way. This is how we change the world.

Autism Parenting Magazine is an award winning publication aimed at improving the quality of life for families effected by autism.

]]> Expanding Our View of Hiring Biases 2019-07-31T00:42:00+00:00 2021-02-24T17:26:02+00:00 Jill Willcox “Inclusion” is a topic widely discussed in 2019. Most of the time when we think and talk about inclusion, the focus is drawn to factors of diversity such as race, gender and sexual orientation.

Here at Iterators, we include neurodiversity high on the list of differences built into inclusion.

Neurodiversity: another difference to keep in mind

The term “neurodiversity” was coined by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, in the mid-90s. She wrote in her honors thesis that differences in neurology should be recognized and respected as a social category, similar to ethnicity, socioeconomic class or physical disability.

Harvey Blume further popularized the word in his 1998 piece in The Atlantic: “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general.

Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind.”

What year is it?

It’s amazing, really, to think that it took until nearly the end of the twentieth century for our culture to begin to view the spectrum of differences in our neurology as important and valid variations that require just as much acknowledgement and respect as the many other factors of diversity.

The level of tolerance we have as a nation is linked tightly to hiring bias. When companies are hiring, if they’re “woke” enough, will pay close attention to the diversity of the workplace. According to national industry medians, companies that are ethnically diverse perform 35% higher than less diverse workplaces. Gender diversity helps boost performance 15%. Again, though, most of the time the only differences taken into consideration are race and gender. Neurodiversity often falls to the wayside.

McKinsey explains the somewhat depressing reality:

The United Kingdom does comparatively better in racial diversity, albeit at a low level: some 78 percent of UK companies have senior-leadership teams that fail to reflect the demographic composition of the country’s labor force and population, compared with 91 percent for Brazil and 97 percent for the United States.

We’ve got a lot of work to do.

So, as a whole we have focused on increasing numbers and boosting inclusivity in many ways. But, in terms of recognizing the abilities of neurodiverse individuals, most of whom are unemployed due to hiring biases, we have some catching up to do as a society.

]]> Diversity Must Go Further Than Gender and Race 2018-01-01T22:49:00+00:00 2021-02-24T17:25:50+00:00 Jill Willcox

The HR space has been rife with talk about employee engagement over the past few years. Studies have repeatedly shown that engaged workforces are more productive. Every four years Gallup conducts research in this area, and in their last study showed:

"Work units in the top quartile in employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability, and 21% in productivity. Work units in the top quartile also saw significantly lower turnover..."

Hiring managers are very familiar with this data, and 'work culture' is a primary focus for leaders with an eye on the bottom line because it is now accepted knowledge that employee engagement is necessary to reach peak profitability. Hiring managers are also aware of the data around how diversity impacts employee engagement. Research conducted by Deloitte showed that:

“There is a statistically significant relationship between diversity practices and employee engagement at work, for all employees".

There is a statistically significant relationship between diversity practices and employee engagement at work, for all employees.

The research demonstrates that employee perceptions of their organization’s diversity practices were directly related to their levels of engagement. Importantly, perceptions in this case are not of the diversity ideology or values, but more importantly perceptions of actual ‘policies and practices that make up an organization’s diversity practices’ – the tangible actions taken for diversity.”

The Speech Effect

There are approximately 6 and 8 million people in the U.S. have some form of language impairment. It is estimated that more than 3 million Americans stutter. A speech impediment is one of the disabilities most difficult for a hiring manager to get past.

Diversity must be a whole mindset that is embraced throughout your organization; segmenting diversity advancement by class (race, gender, sexual orientation, diversity etc.) will slow the process and hinder your staff from being truly inclusive. If you as a leader accept the research that proves engaged workforces are more productive and profitable, and that diversity greatly raises the level of engagement for your employees, you must find a way to implement inclusive diversity within your organization. You can begin with the US Chamber of Commerce’s Leading Practices on Disability whitepaper and begin to consider how you move your organization forward to greater diversity.

]]> How to Make a Lasting Human Connection 2017-12-11T22:33:00+00:00 2021-05-21T16:39:29+00:00 Kelly McHugh Uncertainty is an uncomfortable thing. It’s why waiting to hear back after a job interview is so nerve-wracking and why an elusive voicemail from a physician can send someone into a state of panic. The irony of the human experience is that human connection, which is essential to our well-being, is inherently uncertain. We will never know what it is like to live someone else’s life or to feel someone else’s emotions. We communicate with others to dispel uncertainty and build connections and relationships. But what happens when our attempts to dispel uncertainty end up offending - or worse yet, hurting – the people who we are trying to connect with? What we intend to communicate and what impact our words have do not always align. With all of the uncertainty around what speech and language disorders are, it is not surprising that this is a common experience for people affected by them.

In an attempt to dispel some uncertainty around which communication behaviors and words may unintentionally impact people with speech-language disorders, I will elaborate on four I have come across through my clinical practice. Please note that I do not claim to have a speech-language disorder and do not know what it is like to have someone say these things to me. However, I do know what it is like to sit across from a client who painfully recounts these episodes and tries to make sense out of them. It is as an ally for people with speech-language disorders that I share this information and welcome others to share their first-hand experiences.

Note: The format and inspiration for this blog came from Dr. Maura Cullen’s book 35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say.

“[Insert famous person’s name] used to stutter, but they got over it.”


This is typically said when someone wants to comfort a person who stutters by suggesting that they may not stutter their whole life. It is meant to communicate hope.


This statement is uninformed and may make a person who stutters feel frustrated and misunderstood. A person who stutters likely knows a great deal about stuttering, whether through their own research, experience, or education on the topic. If they have had the desire and resources to change their speech, they have likely invested a great amount of time, energy, and resources towards their communication goals. With that said, they are likely aware of the fact that approximately 75% of children “outgrow” stuttering ( and that they did not fall into that statistic. Yes, some children “get over” stuttering, but some do not. For some, stuttering is something that they must manage throughout their lives and no amount of effort or resources will change the fact that they are a person who stutters. When someone suggests that they might “get over” their stuttering, they may feel that their efforts and identity are discounted.


An understanding of speech and language disorders can help inform interactions with people who are speech and/or language impaired. Understanding how and why their communication is as it is will help you make informed comments, should their speech become a conversation topic. There are wonderful resources on the topic of stuttering through the Stuttering Foundation and National Stuttering Association. Additionally, you can always feel free to direct your questions to our speech-language pathologists at The Speech Factor [link “Ask an SLP”]. Regardless of your knowledge of communication disorders, it is generally a good rule of thumb to focus in on the content of your conversation partner’s message and not on the way in which they communicate it.

For some, stuttering is something that they must manage throughout their lives and no amount of effort or resources will change the fact that they are a person who stutters.

Kelly McHugh

Finishing someone’s sentence(s) for them


When another person is struggling to communicate in some obvious way, it may seem cruel to just sit back and watch. Jumping in and helping them communicate their thoughts may seem like a kind thing to do.


This is particularly relevant to people who stutter and/or have word-finding difficulties. While it may take some people a longer time to communicate their messages, they are their messages to communicate. When someone jumps in and communicates their thoughts, it suggests that their message is not important or worth taking the time to hear. Additionally, their intent may be lost in another person’s completion of their thoughts.


Allowing people to share their messages regardless of how they communicate allows for a shared and meaningful interaction. If it is difficult to understand another person’s message, asking for clarification is always appreciated! This communicates to the other person that their message is important and that they are worthy of being understood.

Allowing people to share their messages regardless of how they communicate allows for a shared and meaningful interaction

Kelly McHugh

You seem so normal, you don’t look like you have autism.


This is typically intended to serve as a compliment. It suggests that a person is not like other people who share their diagnosis and implies that they are more “acceptable” because of that.


This statement could be offensive to some. If someone identifies strongly with their diagnosis, you have made it clear to them that you see people with their diagnosis as “weird.” It communicates to the person that the less they are like people who share their diagnosis, the more normal they are.


Using comparative language to describe someone always bears with it some level of rejection. When communicating to connect, using language that suggests acceptance tends to foster a more positive experience for everyone involved.

When communicating to connect, using language that suggests acceptance tends to foster a more positive experience for everyone involved.

Kelly McHugh

I always have trouble finding the right word too! I know how you feel.


This is typically said in an attempt to connect with another person. Shared experiences often create connections, so this may seem like a logical way to build rapport with someone.


For someone with a diagnosed word-finding impairment, having trouble finding the right word may be more than an inconvenience. It may mean that they have to keep a running list of things and people they may interact with throughout their day to accommodate their impairment or rely on alternative means of communication to get their messages across. By saying that the same thing happens to you, you are suggesting that it happens in the same way and to the same extent. For someone who significantly struggles with something, this language could make their experience feel trivialized.


When someone is clearly struggling with something, active listening and empathizing go a long way (e.g. saying “that must be frustrating to not be able to think of the word you want to say”)! Empathy often opens the gate to connection and may help people share their experiences in a thoughtful way.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and is intended to start a conversation around how our communication affects others. While uncertainty is uncomfortable and ever-present in our world, together we can share our experiences and build a collective awareness that connects us.

]]> Challenge Convention and Listen Closely 2017-09-26T21:00:00+00:00 2021-02-24T17:25:24+00:00 Amelia Willcox

Linguistic diversity, vocal styles, and speech habits are all the subject of Are Linguistics The New Forefront of Diversity, the most recent article I read which resonated with me. It caught my attention for a number of reasons.

See the link below:

To start, one of the authors quoted in this article is a professor at Clark University, which is a research university dedicated to diversity in its student body.

I myself am a graduate of this university! In addition, I am a speech-language pathologist, which means I spend my time as a professional helping others who have difficulty communicating by teaching them skills and strategies to assist them in communicating as effectively as possible. Related to this, the authors noted some terms that relate to overall communication, those being: vocal fry, “upspeak” and “uptalk.”

To shed light on these vocal qualities, it is important to know what each of these terms refers to:

  • Vocal fry is when someone produces voicing that has a low-pitch, rough quality. This style of speaking has become part of pop culture; especially as reality TV shows have gained in popularity.
  • “Upspeak” refers to the final syllable of a word being stated with a rise in intonation or inflection.
  • “Uptalk” refers to the style of speaking where a statement is expressed with a rise in intonation at the end, which causes the statement to sound like a question.

Vocal fly, “uptalk” and “upspeak” are considered to be a personal linguistic habit and style of speaking. Often, people may not even know they have these qualities in their speech until someone points it out to them. Just like any habit, over time, they become less noticeable and conscious to the person who is using them.

The authors point out that these various vocal qualities are disproportionately associated with a woman’s style of speaking over a man’s style of speaking even though there is no evidence to demonstrate that women use these styles more often than men.

This was notable as it points to a bias and assumption about women, especially women in the workplace; this is often mischaracterized or misinterpreted. In the article, the authors even note that women “’continue to be held to a standard where the idea is that they need to conform more to the way men speak.’” This in and of itself is a bias towards women in the workplace, be it conscious or unconscious.

When thinking about this issue of speech habits and vocal styles, it brought to mind that this article raises issues that are in contrast to those with speech-language impairments. In both of these cases, individuals present with a different way of speaking and expressing themselves. For those with speech-language impairments, their communication is not a habit or a style; rather, it is due to a specific impairment, which can manifest itself as difficulty producing certain sounds accurately, or the fact that they may take extra pauses while they speak, and may us words “um” and “like” while they are talking.

The difference between the general population who may be using these vocal styles and many individuals with speech-language disorders (especially those who have received speech-language therapy in their life) is the awareness that their speech is different. Many individuals work tirelessly to minimize these differences, and what they express is the best they are able to do. This is especially true during job interviews, presentations, and other public speaking events where talking is the main form of communication and the setting is of a professional manner.

When thinking about either group, those who use vocal habits or those with speech-language impairments, it is clear that individuals, especially in a professional setting, place far too much value on the way people express themselves relative to the actual content of what is being said. It would be better for everyone if people could look past how others speak, remove judgment, and focus on what the person is actually saying. This would allow people to be seen for their strengths, talents, and potential rather than purely for the way they talk.

Clark University’s motto is Challenge Convention, Change the World and Clark University values its community and strives to teach students with diverse backgrounds and who are from all over the world. From my time at Clark University, I can vouch for the fact that they empower their students to be a guiding force in their community from the top down. I urge those at the top, deans, professors, support staff, and administrators to “challenge convention” and guide others in how to decrease the bias against the way people speak, and to encourage an open mind and attitude towards people based on the content of what they say rather than how they say it.

]]> Valuable Tools in the Workplace, Including Neurodiversity 2017-09-08T23:26:00+00:00 2021-02-24T17:25:01+00:00 Jill Willcox

A family member with a language disorder came home late from school explaining that his foreign-language teacher kept him after class, suggested he transfer to a different class, stating she thought he would be "happier." She did not ask about his overall happiness or what this change would due to his academic schedule or extra-curricular activities.

While checking, it was discovered that the class she recommended was for students who were at least one year behind in the academic subject, and statistically, there was a higher percentage of students in this class with a learning disability.

This is a stunning example of how unconscious bias permeates our everyday experiences.

As a society, we do not accommodate differences well, but when we do, it almost always works better for all.

Many well-intentioned people assume if you have a language disorder you also have a cognitive impairment and it’s a form of unconscious bias to pigeonhole everyone with such a broad brush.

As a society, we do not accommodate differences well, but when we do, it almost always works better for all. This is why diversity is so important in schools, businesses, and society as a whole.

We have learned to accommodate certain differences well. For example, another family member came home excited with the news that they had two co-teachers for the coming school year. We did not know why, but the reason soon became crystal clear. One co-teacher spoke all lessons to the class while the second co-teacher signed every word for the hearing-impaired student in class. In the process of adapting for this student, the entire class learned sign language. It also taught the class the real meaning of diversity, acceptance, and teamwork, which are all valuable tools in the workplace.

Our family member never did change classes. He told his teacher he was not academically behind and thought he would be bored in the other class. He also told her the change in schedule would conflict with the honors physics class.

Some months later, the foreign language teacher bumped into us and it was evident she learned a valuable lesson. She expressed how much fun she had teaching this student. She also said she taught for 25 years and hadn't had the opportunity to experience a lot of diversity, and now felt like the master teacher she was considered to be.

]]> Ask Employees How to Create an Inclusive Workplace 2017-07-08T21:46:00+00:00 2021-02-24T17:24:47+00:00 Jennifer Brown

So – you’ve successfully built a diverse workforce, but now you realize that the transformation you’re aiming for is only partly accomplished; that your workplace culture must change, too, to accommodate the varied people in it. You want to start the work of building this matching culture – a culture of inclusion that will ensure that all of your employees feel welcomed and relish coming to work every day? Great! You’re doing the right thing. With that intention in mind, how can you best begin to build a culture of inclusivity and awareness?

The best first step toward designing a successful inclusion strategy for a diverse workplace is to listen to what your employees are saying. It seems obvious, but true listening is in short supply in our frenetic, hierarchical world. However afraid you are to understand the issues in your organization and bring them to light (and however much your legal team advises against it), knowledge is power, but it has to be done in a respectful and culturally competent way.

At JBC, we recommend and facilitate like-affinity focus groups as a powerful tool to figure out where the pain points are within organizations and certain diverse communities, while also identifying what works and what employees love about coming to work.

The best first step toward designing a successful inclusion strategy for a diverse workplace is to listen to what your employees are saying.

Jennifer Brown

We usually share the following tactical recommendations to get started:

  • Don’t be afraid to recommend focus groups by affinity. The safety of an exclusive conversation of employees with a shared identity is a powerful experience for participants and will yield the richest and most accurate insights. People will appreciate being asked to participate and actually get excited that they are being invited to a forum to discuss their experiences.
  • Think beyond race and gender for your affinity groupings. Include LGBT, allies, millennials, and other generation-specific groups, as well as white men. Ask the same, general, open-ended questions across the board, and you will be intrigued by the similarities as well as stark differences that will show up and which are critical to be aware of.
  • Organizations have to create a safe place for employees to be vulnerable and honest. No direct reporting relationships should be present in the room when preparing focus groups or asking for employee feedback.
  • It’s also useful to engage an outside contractor to conduct focus groups for you, rather than tasking your HR team. When employees feel they are being watched, especially by someone with any sort of relationship to performance reviews, they will be reluctant to speak candidly, and you won’t get the critical information you need to move forward strategically and holistically.

The idea of participating in focus groups can cause anxiety among employees and employers alike, especially for people with speech and language disorders. Even so, for those belonging to this or to other identity groups, they can serve as the vents where many of the suppressed emotions and pain points around diversity surface, particularly in an otherwise constrained workplace. As a result, some may express concerns about the intent of the exercise or oppose it altogether. As a diversity consultant and advocate, I’ve heard every argument against getting like-identity groups together to talk openly. “Isn’t this a case of special rights?”, “Aren’t we just inviting trouble by suggesting certain demographics get together to compare notes?”, and my favorite, “Isn’t this just another form of discrimination or exclusion?” Once people hear the feedback, however, they realize that we’ve created an environment where it’s safe for all participants to reveal more of who they are, be honest about their experiences, connect into a community, and get excited that the company is finally looking at their challenges with a closer eye.

The very act of conducting focus groups can cause a seismic shift in the conversation. Gathering feedback is instructive as well as inspirational for many. Participants consider offering their name and resources, leading the charge for new initiatives and bolstering the effort—all because they’ve been asked and included.

It can be difficult for the senior leadership team to hear what employees are saying. We have encountered bewilderment, finger pointing, and defensiveness from senior leaders who sincerely had no idea what the daily life of their employees comprised. If you are a leader, I encourage you to open yourself to hearing what your employees have to say through the safety of focus groups. It’s better to know than to pretend that everything is fine. It only represents a failure on your part if you then choose not to act to improve conditions on the trading floor, the manufacturing floor, or in the lab at your organization.

In order for individual employees to change, the culture around them has to begin to change. Good news, it doesn’t have to happen all at once. But there is inevitably low-hanging fruit in the analysis of the focus groups; there are quick steps a leadership team can take to let the employee population know that they’ve been heard and that more changes are going to come.

Just the mere fact that a company is undertaking a hard look at its culture and levels of engagement goes a long way toward making all of your employees feel Welcomed, Valued, Respected, and Heard℠.

Photo credit: themostinept 6th March 2016 via photopin (license).