From the time he was in elementary school, Justin Lacap regularly experienced trauma. It wasn’t until he reached high school that his speech and language disorder was diagnosed—and only then did he begin to understand his disability.
“I’m a person who stutters,” Lacap tells InclusionHub.
“In grade school, it really brought me a lot of trauma, and episodes of not feeling wanted, being humiliated, laughed at, and bullied.”
For several years, Lacap’s speech and language disorder was misdiagnosed. Teachers and school professionals, who insisted he needed assistance in English and language arts, placed him in after-school classes, but none were helpful with his stutter.
It wasn't until Lacap began seeing a speech therapist at California State University, East Bay, where he began to make progress and learn the techniques to overcome his stutter. However, despite this progression and diagnosis, he continually felt the same negative emotions associated with stuttering.
“There’s a lot of stigma around people who stutter, and that they’re incompetent or dumb,” Lacap says. “We do know what we want to say, but sometimes it just takes us a while to get it out.”
The National Stuttering Association designates every Oct. 22 International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD). Now in its 23rd year, it recognizes those who live with stuttering and its impact on the community through support, education, and awareness.
ISAD coincides with National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which celebrates the accomplishments of working people with disabilities and seeks to improve historically low unemployment rates within the disabled community.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately eight in 10 individuals with disabilities were unemployed in 2020, compared with just three in 10 who reported having no disability—a situation exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Lacap, an event supervisor on the Real Estate and Workplace Services team at Salesforce, the San Francisco-based customer relationship management (CRM) provider, hopes his story encourages other corporations to implement hiring, training, and cultures similar to Salesforce. While these processes can already be stressful and anxiety-ridden for many job seekers, Lacap also had to worry about how recruiters or interviewers would react to his stutter. His defense mechanism was to hide or minimize his disability, hoping it would go undetected.
Speech and language disorders are more common than some might think, affecting approximately five to 10 percent of people in the United States. Additionally, there are more than 7.5 million people in the United States who have trouble using their voices, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
Stuttering, which impacts an estimated 3 million Americans, is most common among young children developing language skills, and is about three to four times more prevalent in males than females.
Simply having an awareness about speech and language disorders, such as stuttering, and understanding how to accommodate people’s needs is an important step in creating a more inclusive environment. This is something Lacap says he never really experienced prior to joining Salesforce two years ago.
“Even at my previous jobs, I never felt comfortable disclosing this part of myself,” he says. “But it was really at Salesforce—this past year was my first time sharing my story out in the open, and with the world.”
Salesforce’s Disability:IN 2021 Employer of the Year recognition is testament to its inclusive efforts. While a growing number of corporations are making a concerted effort to become more inclusive, the woefully low unemployment rates among people with disabilities globally shows how society—and employers—need to accelerate action.
“Whenever I would apply for jobs [prior to Salesforce], I never disclosed my disability because I didn’t want that to be a factor of maybe why they chose to not hire me,” says Lacap. “However, when doing further research, it was encouraging when I saw that Salesforce placed a big emphasis around equality and inclusion.”
He also credits a recruiter friend at another tech company for encouraging him to disclose his disability.
“After being with Salesforce for about two years now, I’ve really felt like I am able to be myself in the [Salesforce] community and ecosystem,” he says. “I really have found a home, and a tribe I can relate to, and that’s super important to me.”
Lacap says making small accommodations, such as providing the candidate additional time during interview Q&A periods—and general patience—can make a significant difference.
“While interviewing for my current position, they did make the proper accommodations to ensure I had enough time to say the answers I wanted to say during the interview process,” Lacap says. “For me and my stuttering, it’s on and off; there’s good days and bad days, and I just don’t know from moment to moment how much time I’ll need. So it was nice to know people were understanding about my situation, even if I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a good or bad day.”
Lacap’s team is responsible for planning, implementing, and executing the company’s internal events. Lacap also serves as chairperson of Abilityforce, the company’s employee resource group.
“Both my role as event lead and through Abilityforce have been really empowering,” he says. “I am able to work with a lot of people and stakeholders on planning events, and making sure the vision and execution happens from start to finish.”
Having the support and consistent communication through his job and role at Abilityforce have lessened the stigma that’s often attached to his disability.
“Even if I have a stuttering moment or episode, I am able to carry on, and I have the understanding in my head that I am a normal person, and nobody is judging me for my disability, and I’m able to still produce great work,” he says.
Currently, Lacap’s department is working to make the company’s event registration forms more accessible, which he says is critical for the best-possible experiences for those with disabilities. It’s seemingly small changes like this that can make a huge difference.
“If people are interested in coming to events, they really appreciate if special accommodations are made to surveys and forms, such as screen readers or subtitles, as an example,” Lacap explains. “If it’s an in-person event, making sure there’s a way for them to be part of the event is important so that it’s a comfortable experience for everyone.”
When it comes to job seeking and hiring processes, Lacap recommends being honest, upfront, and showing your true authentic self.
“Through doing a lot of awareness-building events this past year and really sharing my story, I’ve been more comfortable with it [my stuttering],” he says. And also having my mentor there to reassure me that having a [speech and language] disorder doesn’t define me, but rather gives me color into who I am as a person.”
This article is part of a series focusing on the contributions people with disabilities make to the labor force and in commemoration of Disability Employment Awareness Month, an annual initiative.