By Lauren McGinley

People often ask me what I find the most challenging about being physically disabled and my answer is having a speech impairment. Relying on others and/or equipment to help me move around gets tricky, but unclear speech poses barriers to a wide range of tasks. My loved ones understand me well so communicating with them is easy. However, those less familiar with my voice really struggle. As such, meeting new people and making important phone calls to health professionals, businesses, etc without someone I know being with me is near impossible.

There have been times when I have had to meet someone new on my own or I’ve been approached by someone I’ve never seen before in public who had to ask me a question, and I almost froze/got paralysed with anxiety over whether they were going to understand what I had to say. I think that this anxiety comes from knowing that a lot of people are too afraid to ask me (and others who have speech impairments) to repeat myself in case they offend me even though I prefer to be asked.

This is just my opinion, but I don’t see how it is any different to people saying ‘pardon?’ or ‘what?’ to a family member or friend when they miss what has been said. It can even be dangerous to pretend that you know what another person has said and not clarify it because they could be in serious trouble.

I remember being in primary school and having to ask a fellow student where the teacher on yard duty was as my best friend had fallen over. The student just nodded and said “yes” before smiling at me and walking off. Clearly this wasn’t very helpful, and it was lucky that the teacher appeared in sight soon after. It’s in times like that one that I also wish I owned a speech-generating device – to help me communicate with others much easier.

Fortunately, this year I found the device for me, one that suits my needs perfectly, and can give me the incredible feeling of independence that I have always desired… and I finally have my voice!