A Speech to Remember

Often, when you have a speech impairment or are non-verbal, people think you’re incompetent.

I know this to be true because I have a speech impairment and have been fighting that stigma all my life.  In my current role as Public Relations Assistant, I give many presentations about the programs Goodwill Easterseals Miami Valley offers to the community.  Not only do I give presentations for work, but I also give talks on how living with a disability effects my everyday life and advocate for persons with disabilitie throughout the community and state level.

It always tickles me when I first take on an audience during my presentations, because at first, everyone looks at me like, what the heck. I’m sure the “look” has a lot to do with my speech. By the time I’m finished speaking, let’s just say, listening to me is no longer an issue and matter of fact, they want more.

Everyone is born with a gift, and mine happens to be the gift of gab, with my unique voice and all.

Although Elizabeth Bonker can’t talk, she has a lot to say. Elizabeth, who’s autistic, is also non-verbal. If not educated, some might think her disability would stop her from accomplishing great things, but as I tell people, mind over matter trumps any challenges you may face. For where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Not only did Elizabeth graduate from Rollins College receiving a degree in social innovation; she was also Valedictorian.

The task that comes along with being Valedictorian is delivering the class speech at graduation. Public speaking is one thing people are known to be afraid of and difficult for most to do. You would also probably think this task would be even more difficult or impossible for a person who’s non-verbal, but boy are you wrong.

With the help of an assistive device, that allows Elizabeth to text to speak, she delivered a powerful speech to the graduating class. Like me, Elizabeth types with one finger, which after you’ve done it for a while, you become pretty good at it. I type twenty-five words a minute with one finger. It’s truly an art form.

In Elizabeth’s speech she reminded the class to use their voice. She also reiterated, “life is for services”. Helping and paving the way for others is the only way to grow. The domino effect of using your voice for service will catch fire benefiting many.

Although her words probably inspired the crowd, it really motivated me, for I know she was speaking her truth as a person living with a disability.

If you’re blessed to have a voice, use it, and use it for good. Life is difficult, but if you can find some purpose it will motivate you to have something to say that will impact the world.

Congratulations Elizabeth, you’re truly the best of the class this year!


4 comments on “A Speech to Remember

  1. Mary Ellen Pfeil on

    Hello Shari!

    What a wonderful blog! I didn’t know anything about Elizabeth Bonker. Her achievement is terrific and is a sign that society is becoming more accepting of people with disabilities. I bet someone like her would not be allowed to speak through a text to speech device 20 years ago.

    Bravo to you, Shari for bringing awareness to others about the many aspects of living with a disability.


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